Smut, Drugs, Yachts, And The Death Of The Middle Class: A Light Opera

Okay, so the FB commenter got me. “From a profiling standpoint, I'm hung up on why Friends of Lippert are so particularly fascinated with whores, junk, murder, sex, betrayal, yachting & a last sip of wine before heading into the wind. Tough demographic, man!” he said.

He was referring to a link I posted on my Facebook page to a viral story so overflowing with made-for-tabloid details that the fascination is not hard to imagine from any demographic.

In a nutshell, the news involves the arrest of a prostitute (a.k.a. “sex worker”) in connection with the death of a Google executive from a heroin overdose after a late-night assignation on his yacht, the Escape. Security footage reportedly reveals that while he was on the floor, struggling for his life, she allegedly collected her needles, took a final sip of wine, lowered the shade on the boat’s window, and left. His body was found the next morning. The companion is named Ms. Tichelman (you can’t make that up) and the Google Glass guy allegedly found her on SeekingArrangement.com, a place for “sugar babies” and “sugar daddies."

Details like these provide unimaginable gifts for crime writers everywhere, and instantly catapult the narrative into the perfect 5.0 version of a Raymond Chandler novel, or a film noir for the digital age.

Obviously, similar scandals have long captured the public imagination and sold papers. The death of architect Stanford White in 1907 comes to mind.

But in this case, I think the Google factor is significant. It makes the story an emblem of our times. Because at this point, aren’t we all developing a bit of Googlefreude?

After all, wasn’t the digital revolution going to make our lives collectively more awesome? Hadn’t we been led to believe that techies are more exalted types, who do different things with their money, and wouldn’t end up in the same tawdry sex and drug scandals as sleazy politicians and the ethics-free Wolves of Wall Street? And that technology would also reinvent the world and save humanity?

Everything has a cycle. And right now, on the low end, we’re sick of Honey Boo-Boo, the Kardashians, and Duck Dynasty, for starters. And in light of recent revelations, we’re a little tired of the tarnished gods of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, too.

The FCC is investigating Facebook’s big, bad, secret news feed manipulation; regardless, the below-board m.o. angered millions of users who are already annoyed by every change the social media monolith makes. (And many women who can’t arrange to get home to their families at 5:30 every night are not great fans of "Lean In," COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestseller on female corporate success, or her move to “ban bossy.” )

We have long heard about the low pay and serf-like working conditions for employees at Amazon fulfillment centers, which are pretty shocking. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos has managed to position himself as the modern male version of the Wicked Witch of the West, sending his drones out liked winged monkeys and attacking venerable brick-and-mortar publishing companies.  Stephen Colbert has mustered his own army, directing his viewers to boycott Amazon and use smaller online booksellers. Bezos would be smart to listen.

Of course, the general arrogance of tech world plutocrats is proving no different from the way banking, Wall Street, or steel, oil, and/or railroad moguls have always operated historically. Moguls are generally killer competitors, who don’t like to let the law get in their way. Except at least the Robber Barons gave us some exquisite public libraries. Whereas this 30-year-old tech revolution thing has become a winner-take-all, ask-permission-later game that has been great for the 2 or 3 percent,  but has also entirely flattened the middle class.

As Jaron Lanier, “the father of virtual reality,” writes in his latest book, “Who Owns the Future?”: “The old ideas about information being free in the information age ended up screwing over everybody except the owners of the very biggest computers.” He adds: “The biggest computers turned into spying and behavior modification operations, which concentrated wealth and power.”

Lanier’s most-talked-about example involves Kodak versus Instagram. “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera,” he writes in the prelude. “But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

Disruption was always the aim.  And Silicon Valley-ites go ballistic hearing this, and offer a million counter-examples. In one review I read, the guy asked, “What about eBay? How many people were actually employed by Christie’s auction house, vs. making money on eBay?”

Well, I think that sort of proves Lanier’s point. Yes, you can make real money as a seller on eBay -- but few do. Most make the kind of money that requires two other additional jobs if you’re going to make your rent, never mind securing membership into the middle class.

And I realize that one sex scandal, involving a victim who had his own demons to battle -- and who apparently started out in automotive and had only worked at Google for a brief time -- is just one sad story and can’t be emblematic of much, except that human nature doesn’t change over the ages.

But in a larger cultural way, Googlefreude, and backlash against technocrats, is very real. As a country, we cannot continue without a middle class. And we have to start working on the revisions.

But excuse me for now. I have to get back to posting about the results of taking the BuzzFeed quiz, “Which ‘Grease’ Pink Lady Are You?”

Wouldn’t you like to know?

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18 comments about "Smut, Drugs, Yachts, And The Death Of The Middle Class: A Light Opera".
  1. Edward Shain from EMS Associates , July 10, 2014 at 8:07 p.m.
    Isn't the sex scandal beside the point? Your opening line in the sixth from the bottom paragraph says it all: "Disruption was always the aim." It was Google's aim (still is). It's Apple's aim. It's virtually every marketer's dream to come up with the iudea that devastates one industry while rebulding it anew in one's own image, so to speak. As for the backlash against technocrats, I'll refer you to "What's the Matter With Kansas." People would rather accept gross inequities and routine humiliation if they can maintain the dream of all that goodness happening to them. There's no backlash against the technocrats, just anger that they have so much. No one wants to regulate them, make them different, change the way they do business. People just want to get a little of that technodollar for themselves. There've been a few dustups in San Francisco, but those are aimed more at squeezing some extra dinero out of the companies than changing the nature of the tehnocrastic revolution in our economy. We can't continue without a middle class, but there doesn't seem to be one hovering on the near horizon.
  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , July 10, 2014 at 11:38 p.m.
    We've gone to a world where almost everybody has a camera, carries it with them, and takes a picture and shares it almost every day. Middle class, lower class, upper class, ruling class, upper middle class--all those designations taking selfies at state funerals, ball games, infrontofs at will. The circuit of energy created by such ability dwarfs Kodak, a deserved loser despite its past heroics. Even this cafone barney google unfortunate with the heroin and the hooker has his demise recorded for all time by a digital camera. The technocrats have so much, but the rest of us crats who don't have yachts and heroin have no reason to envy them or resent them. Some are to be admired and some, pitied. Thus it always was.
  3. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , July 11, 2014 at 1:06 a.m.
    Barbara, clearly you are a much greater thinker than I am. When I heard this story I thought yacht, smug rich person ends his life in scandal, heinous woman, hard to believe sex and drug details confirmed by the now ubiquitous security cameras. To me that's what makes this story pop; plus the elaborate sting operations the police set up to trap her. It made me think that our police really pull off the kind of incredible captures we usually only hear about in movies or on crime shows. The Googlefreude angle never occurred to me, nor did the economic repercussions of Kodak's demise, etcetera. How do you do it?!
  4. Joan McArthur from Joan McArthur Training & Consulting Inc , July 11, 2014 at 1:16 a.m.
    An enormously insightful article, showing how a tragedy who's time had come and the buzz that immediately sprung up around it, tells us a lot about ourselves, and our fasciation with our current crop of "tarnished gods." As usual, Barbara Lippert is showing us how we feel before we know we're feeling it. To wit: the money shot: "...aren’t we all developing a bit of Googlefreude?"
  5. Nancie Martin from Tell My Story , July 11, 2014 at 3:30 a.m.
    Freud would have had something interesting to say about Googlefreude. After he Googled himself.
  6. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis , July 11, 2014 at 3:55 a.m.
    I think there are a couple of issues here, not necessarily connected. The example of Kodak/Instagram has one company that is history and one that has yet to have the time to create its "history" or reach its denouement. But the key elements seem to be the rise in animosity toward the "seemingly privileged" tech sector as they take over San Francisco like a red tide. As a graduate of the Kodak Film School in SF (many years ago), but not a regular user of Instagram for business, I can see how quickly the media landscape can change. And as a San Francisco native, I mourn the loss of diversity and opportunity in this city that once had a multiplicity of cultures, neighborhoods and career options. I have no answers, but I feel that the playing field in this area will eventually even out. I wish all the best outcome. Dyann Espinosa
  7. Steven Schreibman from Finish Line , July 11, 2014 at 6:45 a.m.
    Barbara Lippert once again demonstrates the power of her critical thinking in this wry mashup of stories. I admit the undercurrent of the horrific story about the Google executive grabbed me like a hapless tourist swimming too far from the overstimulated confines of South Beach and puréed my brain. But there is a bigger picture here, one that has nothing to do with this sad, lurid death. Are we as humans--and the companies we create--really adding value to the world?
  8. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications , July 11, 2014 at 6:56 a.m.
    Finger on the pulse, Babs. Spot on. Thanks.
  9. Claudia Reilly from none , July 11, 2014 at 7:16 a.m.
    Googlefreude. A perfect term and wonderful article.
  10. Ruth Thomas from Second helping , July 11, 2014 at 8:01 a.m.
    If a stick is too heavy at both ends, it snaps in half.....we are a world heavy on both ends and it seems the "snap" is inevitably about to happen. We don't learn from our mistakes, we don't digest history, we vote in people to lead us that are self serving and often criminal or idiots....our country blossomed and thrived when we had a strong middle class....just like my physical therapist tells me, your body can't function without a strong core...as for the fascination of the smut, drugs, and yachts, the public alway ..ALWAYS, love to go to the base, lowest, most deviant behavior...it's the accident you should not stare at, it is the porn you you clicked on by accident ...it is also a momentary escape from fear of all that is occurring .....
  11. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , July 11, 2014 at 11:34 a.m.
    One of my sharp-eyed FB friends pointed me to this, also a mogul on a yacht story! http://www.examiner.com/article/william-randolph-hearst-murder-on-the-oneida
  12. Carol Gray from WriteAway , July 11, 2014 at 12:55 p.m.
    As a coiner of neologisms and wrapper-upper of loose threads, Barbara Lippert has no peer. Googlefreude indeed.
  13. Mark Mclaughlin from McLaughlin Strategy , July 11, 2014 at 7:58 p.m.
    To work at Google, you need to have a very high IQ. And yet, this dude leaves his security camera running while he shoots heroin and screws a whore. Hmmmm? Sherlock Holmes would find that a bit too easy.
  14. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq , July 11, 2014 at 8:45 p.m.
    Sherlock Holmes would prove that, despite the video footage, the whore did not do it. And do we know that it was his yacht? My guess is that he was on someone else's boat so didn't know there were security cameras. But I haven't Googled it so I'm not sure of the facts. ;-)
  15. Jim English from FJC , July 12, 2014 at 4:16 p.m.
    Information Age Robber Barons not so different from those from an earlier era. Andrew Carnegie at least gave us libraries.
  16. George Parker from Parker Consultants , July 12, 2014 at 6:55 p.m.
    @Mark... Apropos Sherlock... If you had stuck a needle in the dog... It would have barked in the night! Barbara is a fucking Princess. Cheers George "AdScam" Parker
  17. George Parker from Parker Consultants , July 12, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.
    I intend to "Homage" this on Monday on AdScam. 'Cos it is so perfect... As indeed all Barbara's literary gems are. Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker
  18. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC , July 16, 2014 at 7:24 p.m.
    "As a country, we cannot continue without ... class." BL In this matter, I define class as "decency, graciousness, respectability, nobility, style and excellence." NPS Onwards and upwards.