Can Secrecy Win in 2017? Snapchat Will Find Out


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Snapchat has built a social-media empire with an Apple-like approach to secrecy. But its fanatical determination to quash leaks and its devotion to top-down, need-to-know management will be tested by the IPO the company is headed towards (Bloomberg).

Snapchat’s founder/CEO Evan Spiegel likes keeping people, including his own employees, in the dark: “Keeping secrets gives you space to change your mind, until you’re really sure that you’re right,” he has argued. And generations of business leadership have agreed with him. But more recently, and particularly in Silicon Valley, the gospel of openness has begun to take root: Companies test new ideas in public and share as much as they can with employees, partners, and customers, in the belief that everybody wins.

Going public, of course, will bring its own set of legal rules to Snapchat: Some information will have to be reported to the public, and other things will have to be confidential. So far, Snapchat’s hostility to transparency hasn’t crimped its growth or its reputation. As its power expands and its stakeholders multiply, the company’s future path will serve as a test case for just how high a closed company can fly in a world of open networks.

Missiles, Trade Wars, and a Luddite Uprising: Happy 2017!

Quartz’s Steve LeVine offers some dire predictions for the geopolitics of 2017:

  • The U.S., Russia, and North Korea will constitute a new “triangle of instability”: Kim Jong Un will test an ICBM, Putin will see how many more Western elections he can influence, and Trump? His unpredictability and inexperience make him “the greatest geopolitical threat of 2017.”
  • The new U.S. president will follow through on his hard-line anti-immigrant positions. He will pick a trade fight with China, and maybe a shooting fight as well over the South China Sea and Taiwan. Meanwhile, China will aim to take over the leader-of-the-free-trade-world role that Trump’s U.S. is abandoning.
  • Tech will become the target of populist ire as people in the U.S. and abroad question whether the benefits of our smartphone-driven existences outweigh the price: We’ve traded in our privacy for free services, lost our jobs to automation, and seen most of the profits go to a few investors’ pockets. What did we get, again?
  • Putin will send Edward Snowden back to the U.S. in return for “iron-clad evidence that Trump will treat Russia as an equal player on the world stage” — whatever form that may take.

Obama’s Tech Surge Enters Trump Limbo

The U.S. Digital Service emerged from the Obama Administration’s save-the-Healthcare.Gov rollout effort to become a unique problem-solver and fix-it force for the federal bureaucracy. As Steven Levy puts it in Backchannel, it helped the government “operate more like Jeff Bezos than Franz Kafka” and embrace agile development practices.

Levy talked to the leaders of the Obama era’s govtech “surge” and found that, on the record at least, most are hopeful that their work and organizations will survive the transition to the Trump administration. In private, however, they and their teams fear that Trump’s crew will either pull the plug on their work or ask them to tackle projects that they consider unethical.

No one knows whether Trump will simply take a disliking to the entire apparatus of digital-government innovation because it’s associated with his predecessor, or whether he and his cabinet will realize that they could use all the skilled help they can get. One early indicator will be whether Trump fills the role of federal CTO with someone who is a hands-on engineer.

Time to Retire Our Old Notion of Retirement

For decades we heard about the demographic timebomb represented by the looming retirement of the baby boom generation. But retirement itself is changing so radically and quickly that “this once-existential threat to the U.S. economy now looks very much like a potential bonanza,” according to David Rothkopf (Foreign Policy).

That’s because the shift from physical labor to intellectual labor has made it easier for more of us to keep working through later life. At the same time, more Americans who gain a sense of identity and self-worth from their work don’t want to stop. As a result, a greater portion of the over-65 contingent is actually going to be paying taxes rather than drawing down benefits.

As our working lives lengthen, we’ll need a more flexible vision of what retirement means. Of course, if the aging end of the workforce leaves the scene more slowly, we’ll also have to cross our fingers that economic growth will keep opening up new jobs for younger workers.

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