People give money to the weirdest Kickstarters. And crowdfunds you’d never expect to fund go nuts, sometimes.
I would have loved to see the Soylent Crowdhoster fail, but instead it’s at 374%.
Why, why would anyone want to give up food?
Why would anyone consider food something you need to set your body free from? Who thinks like that? I’ll tell you who. Software engineers and hackers, that’s who. I live with one, and if this crap goes on the market, we’ll be buying it for him.
Personally, I was raised by hippies in Manhattan and Maine. I grew up eating homemade organic bread, Szechuan in Chinatown, Indian food in the East Village, 3am Mamoun’s falafels, chocolate mousse from Patisserie Lanciani, lobster I’d chosen myself on the pier, fish I’d caught myself and raw carrots I’d pulled out of the dirt. I used to be a department manager at Dean & DeLuca. Half my career in the Bay Area has been in sales, with artisan pasta makers and foie gras distributors. Food, its beauty and purity and creativity and magic, is central to my existence.
However, my hacker/engineer boyfriend is 6’1″ and weighs 135 lbs. He finds food to be an irritating inconvenience, a nuisance of the meatsuit.
He hates the way his blood sugar spikes unpredictably, hates the way his mood and his coding is affected when he forgets to eat, hates the task of eating. He hates having to remember to take the frozen vegetables out of the microwave and eat them once they’re thawed. The Y Combinator tech startup he works for provides a food budget; I go to Target and buy Ensure, cheese sticks, frozen pizza, chicken fingers, Mountain Dew and potato chips. That’s right, he has to drink Ensure to get enough calories into his body.
I understand that some people really do need help with food. That doesn’t mean they need to try and convert the rest of us.
When you look at the guys who are involved with Soylent, you see that they’re all thin white twentysomething American guys. They are people who have lived in rarified food security and body privilege their entire lives. Reading even one paragraph from the founder’s blog is enraging. I am surrounded by auties and aspies and emotionally tone-deaf geeks, I’m used to this, and I still want to go to this guy’s house and shinkick him.
“If people had more self-control obesity would take care of itself. Perhaps companies would be more productive if managers had more humility and employees had more discipline. These processes are abstract but they must have a physiological basis, and it seems intuitive that more difficult processes consume more energy.” – quote since removed from Rhinehart’s blog.
Of course, the blog of any under-25 startup founder is going to be enraging.
Rhinehart isn’t unique, or even that extreme, despite his unorthodox laundry habits.
“About a year ago, he realised he was wasting time and money on laundering his outfits. So rather than washing them every day, he puts them in the freezer, which kills the microorganisms that cause odour.”
What’s shocking is how many people are responding to Rhinehart’s idealistic sincerity about Soylent, which on the surface seems more like a troll, with sincerity. And their wallets.
The Soylent Crowdhost raised $200k in 24 hours. Adrien Chen’s story on Gawker sums up the appeal pretty well: Soylent is for people who are too busy using their important brains to eat.
I know people who are into biohacking in many ways, from giving up soap and shampoo to ketogenic and paleo diets, or sleep hacks like biophasic. I even know a couple transhumanists, who are waiting for the singularity.
Tech folks are trying everything to escape the limitations of the meatsuit. There’s total self quantification (my boyfriend’s company gave him a FitBit. It looks very futuristic sitting on our coffee table.) More aggressively, there’s “better” living through chemicals like Provigil, gaming the Red Cross to get them to take your blood more often (ferritin is bad?), and sleep overclocking with DIY TDCS or CES machines (remember the Russian Sleep inducers in Larry Niven?).
Here’s a quote from the Bulletproof Buttered Coffee guy:
“Hacking is about figuring out how things work so you can control them.”
Newsflash: you cannot actually control life. Generally, life happens while you are making other plans.The rush to quantify our experience does not mean we can control our experiences, or bulletproof our hearts.
The ideological poison of the Valley is based on the notion that we are all machines, some of us are more equal machines than others, and we’d better get our hands on the programs the really good machines are using.
What’s that you say? Tornado knocked down the house you and your co-machines share? We’d better start using big data to predict them. Do a Kickstarter for a sensor-based Tornado Scout you can wear on your forehead. “It’s like a real-life Tricorder, but for FEMA!”
The Soylent story tells us this: crowdfunding gives inventors, makers and engineers more access to resources to make their ideas real than ever before in history.
But those ideas still have to face market forces, once in the wild. If Soylent becomes conveniently available, and my partner tolerates it as well as $3 a bottle Ensure, we’ll probably buy it. So will some other people. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea that will change the world. It just means it meets a need for a tiny specialty market and that specialty market was able to learn about it through the 21st century’s unprecedented dissemination mechanisms.