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Are we wasting talent in tech?

By July 27, 20112 Comments2 min read

Let me preface this by saying that this is going to piss a few people off, however that’s not my intention. Lately I feel as though we’re wasting a lot of talent on tech which aren’t improving the world. I tweeted the other day that I feared we were wasting too much talent trying to solve “hipstersuperficial problems” and not real world problems.

So what are “hipstersuperficial problems” and how do they differ from real problems? Well hipstersuperficial problems are bullshit, they are inconveniences, they are in no way life threatening. They can be anything from ranking your favorite PBR retailer to organizing your manicure coupons to automating your foursquare check-ins. They are the “problems” which come to you when you think “now wouldn’t it be nice if…”

What are real problems? “I can’t find any clean water to drink.” “I am hungry.” “I don’t have books for school.” These are real problems. These are things we should be dedicating our resources to. Khan Academy is a great example of a real problem being solved with tech. Charity:Water is another great case. Kickstarter is helping lots of people’s dreams become reality as well.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think technology solving “wouldn’t it be nice problems” are often making the world a better more efficient place, and that’s great. AirBnB is a wouldn’t it be nice problem solver, but also a market changer at the same time, and for many it is solving a real problem (need somewhere to sleep). I am sure I’m being naive about this issue, but when I hear about startups that are building machine learning tools to figure out which pattern of plaid goes best with your non-prescription glasses, it makes me cringe a bit. Think of the billions of dollars in college educations and salaries that could be used to solve the worlds real problems.

Its my hope that we as technologists can strive to use our talents to leave the world a better place than we found it. That we can use our ingenuity to improve people’s lives through technology. Shouldn’t we all be striving to live a life of purpose?