The Big Tech Sandwich

2022-06-10 19:36:00 +07:00 by Mark Smith



I recently wrote a series of newsletters where I explored the idea of a Big Tech Sandwich. A mental model for how to think about tech in the most broad context, how to handle the mess that is society. Hopefully it’s helpful in moving things forward so that we can make the world a slightly better place for the next generation. I personally have found it useful.

This blog post is a sort of summary, to have something I can point to in the future. I’m going through a moderately severe case of writers block the past few weeks, combined with very patchy internet access, which isn’t a great combination. Consequently this post is unlikely going to be a super smooth read, but I think the ideas are interesting. Consider this a v1, I’ll update later, better to have something published than nothing at all.

These were the newsletters:

A quick note about culture because it means different things to different people. When I’m speaking about culture here I’m mostly thinking about culture of society rather than something like company culture. They are similar and related, but I’m thinking more about music, art, movies, books in general, with large movements that develop mostly organically.


Where is tech in the bigger picture? We that spend most of our time in the tech industry have a tendency to over play how important we think tech is in society. My observation is that, yes things are complicated, and yes we’ve made a lot of progress, but things are a mess, much messier than is immediately obvious. When you start looking around it’s a bit unnerving to realise. Things are a mess.

But wait, it gets worse, technology is really just a small part of our overall culture. We have some effect on it, but culture is huge, and guess what? It’s also a mess, a really big mess actually.

As you zoom out some more, the timescales increase dramatically. You soon get to the scale of history and religion. You realise how small tech is in the overall picture. Oh yeah and by the way, you thought tech and culture were a mess, well let me tell you, things get mind bogglingly messy at this level. It’s literally unbelievable that we are all living side by side in this small rock we call Earth.

Society, culture, history and even religion play a much much bigger role than we like to admit to ourselves. This sort of stuff is absorbed automatically as we grow up, we don’t even notice a lot of it.

Culture is important, but very difficult to get right. It can help us build temporary scaffolding around difficult areas of our shared history. It gives us the ability to move forward in the present while being informed by the past, but without getting too bogged down. It’s by no means perfect, there are a lot of bumps in the road in some places.

I wrote quite a bit about the example of how popular culture helped to integrate very different parts of UK society. That issue:

I also wrote a related but different piece a bit earlier which is relevant:

The future

Things are actually getting better. When you stand back and see the bigger picture over thousands of years, it’s apparent that things are getting better. The large empires of the past that ruled in very violent ways are becoming much more modern, slavery has been abolished, we collaborate across borders, in different languages, build things together, and we do it using tech.

It’s difficult though because we have all these tough histories that we’ve all been through. There are some very scary things that happened, and for many it’s still horrendous. Some people have a lot, others don’t have much.

So that’s my first attempt at a summary, it glosses over a lot. To get a better sense you really need to read some of the newsletters, and listen to some the podcasts linked in those issues. I encourage you to do that, it’s fascinating stuff. We can get culture moving and popping again, and in even more diverse ways. It might even be fun.

It’s a mess, but slowly, one step at a time, we can together make it better for the next generation and ourselves.

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