Backchannel

About 15 years ago, I was inexplicably offered a job at Google—at age 52. At the time, my age reliably put me in the running for “oldest employee.” Still, I was thrilled to be there and worked hard to become known as a good colleague, reliable, energetic, and a quick…

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Every director knows that the score can make the scene. Anyone who’s ever watched a rough cut without soundtrack music can confirm this. Case in point: Something weird happens to the beloved throne room scene that ends the original 1977 Star Wars, if you’re crazy enough to delete John Williams’s…

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Optimus Prime—the software engine, not the Autobot overlord—was born in a basement under a West Elm furniture store on University Avenue in Palo Alto. Starting two years ago, a band of artificial-intelligence acolytes within Salesforce escaped the towering headquarters with the goal of crazily multiplying the impact of the machine…

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Every time I read about the misdeeds of Silicon Valley’s latest bad-boy leader—whether it’s Uber’s unscrupulous Travis Kalanick, pharma provocateur Martin Shkreli, or disgraced VC Justin Caldbeck—I wonder: Is this all William Shockley’s fault? Misbehavior doesn’t flourish in a vacuum; it’s usually a product of family dynamics. And more than…

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There’s no shortage of corporate drama. Our news feeds have been clogged with an endless parade of companies unraveling before our eyes. Just a few examples: Uber, Tesla, that notorious Pepsi ad, United Airlines, and a string of corporate security breaches. Karen Wickre is Backchannel’s advice columnist, as well as…

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Last week, Elon Musk dashed off 125 characters announcing a remarkably ambitious plan to send Amtrak to an early grave. “Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins,” he proclaimed in a tweet. Ricki Harris is Backchannel’s editorial fellow….

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On July 18, I opened a browser, pulled up various social media sites, and searched for the #bluewhalechallenge. The Blue Whale Challenge is a nefarious internet meme that encourages those who embrace it to hurt themselves. Over the course of 50 days, an anonymous administrator is said to assign players…

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Microsoft recently made a Very Serious Announcement about deploying unused television airwaves to solve the digital divide in America. News outlets ate it up: “To Close Digital Divide, Microsoft to Harness Unused Television Channels,” said the New York Times on July 10, in a headline that could have been written…

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In June 2016, Antoine Balaresque, the cofounder and CEO of the hot new startup Lily Robotics, stood before a room of business students at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, ready to reveal the PowerPoint slides that had made him an instant startup celebrity. Wearing the ubiquitous Silicon Valley uniform of…

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This spring, as part of their coursework, four Stanford University students found themselves in Coronado, California, doing pushups on the beach and charging into a 61-degree surf while overseen by Navy SEAL trainers. They performed this extraordinary homework to better understand the process of inculcating recruits into the elite corps…

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