Elon Musk used to be an interesting character. Certainly all the SpaceX stuff is very dramatic and exciting, not to mention even somewhat useful, if only to serve as a model for possible modes of space exploration. Tesla looks like an interesting venture but the business woes seem to keep piling up for the company. The mainstreaming of EVs is bound to happen at some point and I’ll give Tesla credit for giving it a shot regardless of the outcome.
But now we are on to Boring. Yes, The Boring Company, one of Musk’s other ventures. It digs holes. Tunnels, actually. There’s not much you can do with tunnels, but Musk is convinced that this sort of thing requires his particular brand of “disruption” and “innovation” which are the Silicon Valley Cult’s two favorite words.
Neither SpaceX nor Tesla invents anything new. Rocket technology has not changed much since the 1950s and electric vehicles have well-known, well-established engineering constraints. Musk’s gift seems to be to find more efficient and economical ways to do these things. Though it should be noted that SpaceX is privately-held and thus little is really known about its financial health. And Tesla’s stock is volatile in the extreme and appears to this market amateur to be insanely over-priced.
I want Tesla to succeed. We need EVs and other such solutions. But I’m wary. I’m tired of the hoopla. After all, the first four letters of Hyperloop spell “hype.” And there’s too much hype with Musk.
Case in point: Boring. They claim they can build tunnels cheaper than anyone else and then fill them with electric vehicles (Teslas!) and “revolutionize” transportation. I neglected to mention “revolutionize” in my list of the Silicon Valley Cult’s favorite words.
The problem, if you look at this stuff with a critical eye, is that it is mostly crap. I know it is exciting to ride the coattails of a billionaire while he “re-imagines” (there’s another for the list) our future. But my goodness does anyone really believe he can dig tunnels ten times better than the next guy? And even if he could, would stuffing them with Teslas actually do a better job of moving people than existing transit systems? If you look at the numbers the answer is unequivocally “no.”
And let’s not get started on Hyperloop. There are existing maglev trains that go 200 mph! Do we really think maglev trains in a vacuum tube is that significant of an innovation even if it were possible? It certainly is not practical, but practical doesn’t play well in the Silicon Valley Cult culture, where the pronouncements of futurists and other bullshit artists are treated like sacred scripture.
These days Elon Musk sounds a lot less like his hero Nikola Tesla and more like P.T. Barnum. That’s too bad because the world needs creative, intelligent people to tackle our many problems. But some of those problems don’t need bored billionaires bullshitting local governments into buying their goofy schemes. Public transit systems actually work. They move people around. They could be better, but that is mostly due to a lack of commitment. We don’t have the political stamina to invest in these things. The wealthy decision-makers in our country don’t ride BART or Amtrak or the MTA or any of those things. They wouldn’t be caught dead on a public bus system. But the rest of us need our governments to believe in public transit systems and do the mostly dull work of revitalizing them and keeping them healthy and effective for today and tomorrow.
Silicon Valley’s response is to give us Uber and Lyft which did a great job of destroying the taxicab industry and adding thousands of additional private vehicles to already traffic-choked streets. Neither of these companies makes money! When drivers for Uber and Lyft start charging fees that actually cover expenses for the company and deliver proper wages to the employees (er, I mean “contractors”) then fewer people will use them. Revenues will decline and stock values will plummet. But don’t tell that to the IPO-obsessed public! They can’t wait to get in on the ground floor and become full-fledged Silicon Valley Cult members.
I’m not a Luddite or techno-phobe. Just the opposite. I have faith in human ingenuity. I just think people should not be afraid to yell “bullshit” when bullshit is coming at them, even if it is coming from rich guys and other celebrities.