When the Present Becomes a William Gibson Sci-Fi Novel
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When I moved to Silicon Valley in 1997, four books helped me get my head around my new assignment. Jerry Kaplan’s Startup was and is one of the best books I’ve ever read about venture capital and entrepreneurialism. (Shocker: Neither the VCs nor the founders covered themselves in glory.) The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest by Po Bronson has a now-quaint title but really captured the spirt of pre-dotcom Silicon Valley. Accidental Empires by Robert Cringely was the most authoritative account of the rise of Bill Gates and his top competitors. Finally, I decided that if I was going to understand the techno-futurist people I’d be covering, I should read William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the sci-fi novel that invented the concept of “cyberspace.”
Neuromancer was far and away the toughest read and the least useful of the bunch, for me, anyway. I’m not a technophile. And I’m not particularly fond of science fiction. I wasn’t going to make my mark explaining the technology; my topics always were going to be finance, management, strategy, culture, and the like.
That said, even I can appreciate how Gibson accurately anticipated the bizarre world we live in now, where virtual reality is on the cusp and we spend more time “on the Web” than talking to each other. The dystopian future of Gibson’s first novel aren’t that alien to us today.
I was transported back to my struggles to understand Gibson’s world while reading a new profile of the author in The New Yorker (which Robert mentioned in Data Sheet last week). It’s a delightful and well-told meandering through the life of a far-more-normal-than-you’d-expect man with a knack for envisioning the future. Two spoilers from the article that won’t detract from your reading it: 1) Gibson’s trick is never to imagine too far out; 2) the world is getting so wacky, even for him, that his imagined future is getting closer and closer.
This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.
Chewing gum for the eyes. The Justice Department shut down two web sites that had amassed massive collections of pirated TV shows and movies for illegal streaming, while garnering guilty pleas from two men who ran them. The two sites, iStreamItAll and Jetflicks, had tens of thousands of paid subscribers, prosecutors say.
Have a little faith. In the month and change since former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was allowed to start selling his stock in the company, Kalanick has displayed his faith in Uber's future by keeping every last share. Ha, no. He's already sold $2.1 billion worth of stock, or more than two-thirds of his holdings. In contrast: Co-founder Garrett Camp has sold only $35 million of his more than $2 billion stake.
Absolutely, positively. Are you tracking the package wars? In the latest salvo, Amazon told third-party sellers on its site that they could no longer use FedEx for ground delivery of goods sold in the Prime program. Amazon, which fired FedEx for its own deliveries earlier this year, said the delivery company had become unreliable. "The overall impact to our business is minuscule," FedEx commented.
Bounced. Meanwhile, in the mobile payment wars, PNC Bank is resisting allowing its customers to connect their accounts directly to apps like Venmo. In a tweet, the bank suggested that its customers use Zelle instead. That's the Venmo clone backed by a consortium of banks, including PNC itself.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Walt Disney spent a reported $1 billion on Galaxy's Edge, a Star Wars-themed part of its Orlando theme park, to match Universal Orlando Resort's Harry Potter World. Fortune sent writer Adam Erace to check it out and he's back with a report that's just short of a rave (and Erace admits he's not much of a Star Wars fan). One highlight is the "Rise Of The Resistance" experience.
In scale and scope, Rise is an automatic bar-setter that says to its Orlando competition, “Harry Potter who?” It’s also something of a beta test for the long-format, deep-end storytelling that will anchor the Galactic Starcruiser, the hotel coming to Galaxy’s Edge, though Trowbridge prefers the term “multi-day experience.” When the Galactic Starcruiser opens in 2021, guests can eat and sleep there, in rooms with outer-space screens instead of windows, “but because it is a Star Wars experience, you know that story is going to break out, and adventure is going to break out.”
ON THE MOVE
Now we know why freight software startup Turvo fired CEO and co-founder Eric Gilmore in May. It seems the boss had expensed some $76,120 for visiting strip clubs. Former energy industry exec Scott Lang has taken the reins...At Google, former Homeland Security department cybersecurity expert Jeanette Manfra is joining as the global director of security and compliance for Google Cloud...Also at the 'plex, former PayPal COO Bill Ready has been hired as Google's chief of commerce, reporting to Prabhakar Raghavan, SVP of ads, commerce and payments...Bonobos founder Andy Dunn is leaving Walmart's e-commerce unit, which acquired his startup in 2017, next year...Oracle said the late Mark Hurd would not be replaced with another co-CEO. Safra Catz will remain as the sole boss now.
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BEFORE YOU GO
If you liked former NASA engineer Mark Rober's video last year about the glitter bomb he created to trick porch package thieves, you'll also get a kick out of his sequel. It's the same premise, but now with even more fart spray. And a key celebrity cameo.
On Twitter: @ampressman