Innovation Hub: Legendary Investor Roger McNamee on “Day of Reckoning”

8/1/14Follow @IHubRadio

There’s always plenty of coverage of the newest phones—are they a millimeter thinner? Is the camera slightly better? But when you back up and look at the broad sweep of how technology has changed our lives over the last generation, it’s profound.

Celebrated Silicon Valley investor Roger McNamee has been part of this transformation—having spent the last spent three decades advising everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Bill Gates.

I spoke to McNamee, co-founder of Elevation Partners, about whether there’s a bubble in tech, where Silicon Valley is coming up short, and how new innovations will change us in coming decades.

[This interview has been edited and condensed. For audio of the full conversation, visit innovationhub.org.]

Kara Miller: How has technology changed since you became involved?

Roger McNamee: Technology has gone from something that is external to American culture, to being deeply embedded in it. In that sense, the number of participants in the tech marketplace—whether you’re talking about inventing things or producing the products—has grown by orders of magnitude in the 32 years I’ve been doing this. And it’s hard to overstate how profound that impact is.

Kara Miller: Do you think there’s a bubble in Silicon Valley?

Roger McNamee: To me, what’s interesting about Silicon Valley is that the real bubble has been at the very beginning of the food chain with the raw startups. We’ve had a social revolution where young people, in a tough job market, are just starting companies. There may be a hundred times as many startups over the last four or five years as any period in the history of Silicon Valley. What’s nice is that I think it comes at a moment in time when we are applying technology to all of the old world, offline things. So there are lots and lots of small opportunities out there for people to exploit.

Kara Miller: In what areas is tech failing?

Roger McNamee: While we’ve been creating all this amazing stuff in Silicon Valley, the country has systematically ignored the offline world. Our roads have deteriorated. Our government no longer operates. Wall Street has become a trading machine, instead of an investment capital formation vehicle. For reasons that have little to do with tech, the country is in a place right now where tech can’t save it. People think we’re going to be able to create something as profound as the iPhone, and somehow that will fix all the problems in Washington or fix the roads. None of that is going to happen. We’re going to have to get back to doing real things again.

Kara Miller: There’s been a lot of talk about government surveillance, particularly post-Snowden. What is your stance on that?

Roger McNamee: The thing that is really disturbing today is that our government is spying on us illegally, companies are gathering data that they’re not telling you they’re gathering, they’re doing things with it they’re not telling you about. And we haven’t yet reached the moment in time where people are forced to have a day of reckoning. Something is going to happen soon, and we’re going to have a national conversation about when enough is enough. To me, post-Snowden, I’m astonished at how slow the country has been to try to rein in the security state as it breaks basically every law ever created to restrain it.

Oliver Lazarus contributed to this report.

Kara Miller is the host of “Innovation Hub,” a national radio program that features the thinkers, researchers, and visionaries who are crafting the future. She is based at WGBH Radio in Boston. Follow @IHubRadio

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