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Data Sheet—Remembering When Tom Wolfe Nailed Silicon Valley

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If you’re fortunate enough to practice a craft and to achieve some modest success at it, and if you have even a modicum of humility, then you’re hyper aware of the giants of your field, the people whose least impressive effort is better than you’ll ever accomplish.

Journalist and novelist Tom Wolfe was one of the finest practitioners of narrative nonfiction ever to write in English. Wolfe, who died Tuesday at age 88, was a lion of 20th century journalism, a hard-working, creative, brilliant writer, and a colorful character in his own right. There may be no better example of the genre than The Right Stuff, Wolfe’s meticulously researched and entertainingly told tale of the early American astronauts and the daring test pilot, Chuck Yeager, who never joined their ranks. He excelled at literary criticism, cultural and political portraits, and then, as if there was nothing left to achieve, fiction. His Bonfire of the Vanities recorded an era, the 1980s on Wall Street, as well as any writer ever will.

This being Data Sheet, it may shock you to know that Wolfe also wrote one of the best magazine feature stories every published about Silicon Valley. His December, 1983, profile in Esquire of Intel co-founder Robert Noyce captured the early days of the technology industry, a feat all the more astounding given Wolfe’s outsider status in these parts.

Anyone who thinks today’s “brogrammer” culture in the Valley is somehow new needs to read Wolfe’s insightful account of the proclivity of Intel men to leave their wives for the young women at work who found the engineers’ stories and business triumphs far more entertaining than their homebound spouses did.

I first read Wolfe’s Esquire article a baker’s dozen years ago when I was reporting a profile of Intel’s new CEO, Paul Otellini, who died last year. I asked the legendary Andy Grove, also no longer with us, about the Wolfe profile of his long-deceased boss, and Grove unleashed a typically expletive-laden condemnation of Wolfe’s sendup, arguing that Wolfe didn’t understand Silicon Valley.

I could see why Grove didn’t cotton to Wolfe’s account. But I thought then—and continue to think now—that Wolfe perfectly nailed the self-righteous, entitled, narcissistic mentality of the Valley, a place whose accomplishments equal its hubris. And this was nearly 35 years ago.

Godspeed, Tom Wolfe.

Adam Lashinsky
@adamlashinsky
adam_lashinsky@fortune.com

NEWSWORTHY

All kinds of money. Digital currency startup Circle raised $110 million from private investors led by Chinese currency mining powerhouse Bitmain. The deal terms valued Circle at almost $3 billion, more than six times its value in 2016. Bitmain will work with Circle on efforts to tie new coins to actual currencies and make digital wallets more interoperable. “I think in the future the markets are not only about cryptocurrencies and ICOs but about stable tokens and traditional verticals like bonds and stocks,” Bitmain co-founder Jihan Wu tells Fortune. Elsewhere in cryptocurrency startup land, Canaan, one of the largest makers of mining hardware setups, filed to go public in China and raise $1 billion. And phone maker HTC is trying to jump on the bandwagon with its new phone, called Exodus, that is chock full of features for digital currency traders.

All kinds of filters. Another day, another 2.5 million pieces of hate speech on Facebook. The social network said on Tuesday that it found that many bad posts in the first quarter, with 38% flagged by automated means and the rest caught by humans. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department is investigating Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the center of Facebook’s data oversharing scandal. Meanwhile, Twitter said it was incorporating many more variables into its algorithms to detect inappropriate or abusive tweets so such posts could be filtered out sooner.

Vow of silence. So just how dangerous is social media? So dangerous that a new set of guidelines from the Vatican is telling cloistered nuns not to overindulge. “These means must therefore be used with sobriety and discretion, not only with regard to the contents but also to the quantity of information and the type of communication,” the document states. Hopefully Pope Francis will still be able to tweet regularly to his 18 million followers.

Stripped down. With Apple’s iPad still dominating the tablet market, Microsoft is planning to release a line of cheaper Surface tablets of its own, Bloomberg reports. The new line, coming in the second half of the year, will start at $400 and have 10-inch screens.

Burning a hole in his pocket. Japanese billionaire and SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son isn’t done spending his $100 billion Vision Fund, but he’s still looking ahead. Son is trying to drum up interest to launch a new fund as early as 2019, Bloomberg reported.

Finally. The more than 1.5 million subscribers to AT&T’s DirecTV Now Internet video service finally are getting DVR capability, a year and half after launch. The upgrade, which includes 20 hours of stored recordings at no extra charge, arrives first on apps for Apple TV, iOS and the web, with Android, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku coming soon.

Zoom zoom zoom. Electric scooter scourge–I mean startup–Lime is raising another $500 million to spread its green and white rides to more cities. Some of the financing may come through debt, Axios reports.

Cheaper by the dozen. More discounts for Amazon Prime members are coming to Whole Foods. The company said Wednesday that members will get 10% off items already on sale, among other new perks. “What we’ve seen is when we do special deals for Prime members, we get a lot of traffic,” Whole Foods CEO John Mackey told Fortune.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

With the changes wrought on our culture by smartphones and other digital technologies, the potential reach of marketing and promotion is deeper than ever before. But consumers are bombarded by so much information that marketers have to move beyond the usual kinds of advertising to cut through the clutter. In the Harvard Business Review, Antonis Kocheilas, managing director of strategy at Ogilvy Worldwide, examines how Nike is using new digital means to connect with its customers.

Space, as it relates to a brand system, denotes the proximity of a brand manifestation to a consumer. This goes beyond the traditional idea of physical availability — a term popularized by Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow, which he used to describe how brands can get their products physically in front of their consumers wherever they are, right when they want them. A successful brand must now be intimately integrated into the consumer’s life. It’s not enough for a brand to be physically available; it must also be relied upon.

Continuing with the example of Nike Plus, the Nike brand is granted access to personal health information so that it may help a consumer pursue their active lifestyle. As such, the Nike brand becomes spatially intimate with the consumer. Consumers trust and depend on Nike to help them carry out a certain aspect of their lifestyle. In this context, Nike acts as a lifestyle companion more so than a commercial entity. Thus, the consumer’s relationship with Nike becomes deeply personal, not just transactional.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Virtual Food Is Coming to a Menu Near You By Jay Samit

Amazon and Fidelity Labs Collaborated on a Virtual Reality Financial Agent By Jonathan Vanian

Apple Has More Self-Driving Car Permits Than Waymo and Tesla By Don Reisinger

From Moscow to Zurich: Kaspersky Is Moving Customer Data Away from Russian Spies’ Reach By David Meyer

Keyless Cars Can Have Deadly Consequences By Sarah Gray

Google and Internet Archive Are Top Choices for ISIS Propaganda By Jeff John Roberts

BEFORE YOU GO

Researchers using digital imaging technology have uncovered the secrets of two pages of Anne Frank’s diary that the Holocaust victim covered over with brown paper. The newly discovered text reveals some of Frank’s thoughts about sexual topics, but also sheds light on her development as a writer.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.