Each Friday, Farhad Manjoo and Mike Isaac, technology reporters at The New York Times, review the week’s news, offering analysis and maybe a joke or two about the most important developments in the tech industry. Want this newsletter in your inbox? Sign up here.
Mike: Ahoy, Farhad! How was your week? Mine was great. I forgot I had an old Bitcoin wallet sitting in a closet somewhere, and as it turns out, I am now a millionaire. I wonder if I should keep my job?
Farhad: Did you really? Many years ago I spent $1,000 to buy seven Bitcoins. Then the price went up slightly and I stupidly sold them — netting me a cool $150 in profit. I felt like a genius. Today, I’m the dumbest man ever.
Mike: Yes, well, don’t come crawling to me for Bitcoins any time soon. I’m not made of money. (Yet.)
Mike: Seriously though, this week in Bitcoin news was truly insane. The digital currency shot to more than $17,000 per BTC, up from $12,000 literally just a few days ago. It’s totally nuts. Nathaniel Popper, our trusty colleague, has done a fantastic job chronicling the saga for The Times, if you haven’t read his work this week.
It kind of feels like those stories I heard years ago about hyperinflation in Zimbabwe, where people would cart around wheelbarrows of cash that wouldn’t be worth the paper they were printed on. But, uh, I guess the opposite of that.
All of this seems completely unsustainable to me. And by the time our readers read this newsletter, I can’t even fathom what the price is going to be.
Farhad: I don’t think it’s unsustainable.
I’m not a fortune teller, but even though the market is very volatile, Bitcoin has achieved a level of stickiness in the culture that will keep its price fairly high. Like all network technologies (as well as currencies), Bitcoin gets its utility from the number of people who are committed to it. There are lots of people and technologies around the world now hooked into it, and they are slowly coming up with uses for it, giving it a kind of built-in momentum.
In other words, even though it may crash in the short run, I don’t think it’s near its ultimate price.
Mike: O.K. — well, basically what I’m asking is, should I start asking The Times to pay me in Bitcoin?
Farhad: Wait, you get paid? That sounds like an error of some kind.
Mike: I’ll ask H.R. about it next week.
I do wonder, though, what it will take to bring Bitcoin truly mainstream. I’m a tech-savvy person, and even I need to read an entire Wikipedia article just to figure out what I’m buying with a Bitcoin and how to spend it. Makes me think there’s not a lot wrong with cash (though many finance wonks would probably disagree with that assessment).
Mike: Meanwhile, the reckoning against misbehaving men continues. Right now, we’re in the middle of watching a Silicon Valley battle play out against Shervin Pishevar, an early investor in Uber who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women. Bloomberg did a piece detailing how he brought a pony to an Uber party — yes, really — and later harassed an Uber executive the same evening.
Farhad: You skipped the best part of that piece — a defender who argues that Shervin couldn’t possibly have harassed anyone because he was holding the pony’s leash.
Mike: Ah, yes. The old “holding the pony leash” defense. I believe Matlock pioneered this approach.
Regardless, the claims were furthered on Thursday when Laura Fitton, an entrepreneur, became the first woman to go on the record saying Pishevar crossed the line with her in an encounter years ago. No ponies this time, though Fitton said Pishevar referred to himself repeatedly in the third person as “Shervy,” which is pretty awful even without adding claims of harassment.
Anyway, my biggest takeaway from our Harvey Weinstein coverage is that he wasn’t just one guy harassing women. Weinstein exercised amazing power and control over an enormous network to keep his activities secret from the public for years. That required the complicity of hundreds of people to keep him doing what he was doing.
I imagine that type of power is hardly confined to the entertainment industry, and we’re seeing the cracks in that facade play out in other areas — including tech.
Farhad: Yup. Like in entertainment, much of what happens in the tech world happens through networks of power and proximity. The only way to have long-lasting change in this industry is to replace those old networks with new, more inclusive ones. We may be at the start of that transition now, but there’s going to be a lot of fallout before we get there.
Mike: Before we go, I found this report fascinating: Apparently some of the biggest firms in advertising plan to increase their ad buying budget on Amazon between 40 and 100 percent next year, an attempt to move away from the digital advertising duopoly that is Facebook and Google.
I’m all for shifting the balance of power away from those two companies, who have managed to decimate the publishing industry in record time. But do we really think Amazon is the place to do it? You probably know better than I, since you just wrote a good piece on Amazon.
Farhad: Yeah, it’s a good question. More and more I feel like our future is going to be dominated by battles between these huge corporations. And none of us really has a lot of power in this — advertisers, consumers, we’ve all got these complex decisions to make about which of the giants to go with.
We saw another big battle this week: Google once again blocked YouTube on Amazon’s devices, in retaliation, its says, for Amazon refusing to sell Google’s hardware in its store. Pick your side, consumer!
Mike: Well, that’s enough chitchat for me today. See you next week! I’ll be over on Reddit, conspiring with my fellow Bitcoin millionaires.
Farhad: I’ll be in another part of Reddit, plotting to hack you. See you!