Start-ups create jobs. Immigrants create start-ups. But immigrants have such a difficult time entering the United States that for the first time in decades, immigrant entrepreneurship has stalled. According to a study by entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa -- which he turned into a book this year, The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent -- even as the number of immigrants in the United States has risen, the percentage of immigrant-founded companies has hardly budged from the 25 percent it was at in 2005; in Silicon Valley the numbers fell from 52 percent to 44 percent. It's so bad that the start-up Blueseed is planning to anchor a ship in international waters outside Silicon Valley so that foreign entrepreneurs can live on the vessel and be closer to their investors and clients without needing work visas. How can the United States hope to compete in the 21st century, Wadhwa asks, without welcoming the world's best and brightest?
An Indian-born U.S. citizen, Wadhwa is at the forefront of the movement to institute what he calls a "start-up visa," through which entrepreneurs with proven job creation and company size get fast-tracked for long-term visas. Otherwise, Wadhwa says, the skilled immigrants will be long gone. "They'll be back home building the next Googles and Intels in other countries, and we will wake up five years from now and wonder how we let this happen," he says. It's a wake-up call that post-recession America would do well to heed.
Reading list: Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler; Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, by Brad Feld; The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. Best idea: Dean Kamen's "Slingshot" water purifier. With cheap, pure water, we can dramatically reduce the incidence of disease and illness in the developing world. And we can reduce the likelihood that wars will break out over water shortages. Worst idea: When you live in Silicon Valley, you come across an abundance of bad ideas. One idea is worse than the next! Entrepreneurs are still trying to build more Facebooks and Twitters. American decline or American renewal? Major renewal. We live in the most innovative period in human history. More Europe or less? The same. To tweet or not to tweet? Tweet or perish! Social media has become part of the fabric of modern society. You need to be on it or be left out.
The discussion of Big Data -- a buzzword for the proliferation of information in the digital age and the technologies that have emerged to collect and analyze it -- often centers on potential: the power of massive data sets to transform government and revolutionize business, and even spell the "end of theory" in the social sciences, as Wired's Chris Anderson boldly asserted. Federal agencies from the CIA to the Defense Department have launched initiatives based on the concept.
danah boyd (not a typo: she stripped her name of capital letters in 2000) has done her share of data-mining too, studying the key role social media has played in spreading information during the Arab Spring and Mexican drug war. But, she warns, Big Data isn't necessarily better data. "Will large-scale search data help us create better tools, services, and public goods?" boyd and a co-author inquired in a paper this year. "Or will it usher in a new wave of privacy incursions and invasive marketing? Will data analytics help us understand online communities and political movements? Or will it be used to track protesters and suppress speech?" boyd worries about using data gathered from sites like Facebook and Twitter just because it is accessible. She's also concerned about the growing power gap between the many people who create data (think Facebook's 1 billion users) and the few with the resources and the power to establish rules governing its use (think Mark Zuckerberg). They're questions we often forget to ask as we move more and more of our lives online, but if we don't listen to visionaries like boyd, we may not like the answers so much.
Reading list: Communication Power, by Manuel Castells; Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline; Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It, by Lawrence Lessig. Best idea: When mathematician Doug Muder wrote an essay on "privileged distress," that was an aha moment for me. Privileged distress describes the anxiety that privileged individuals feel when the cultural norms that have benefited them start to shift, thereby undermining their status even though they're not directly responsible for the inequalities that gave them privilege in the first place. Worst idea: I am still dumbfounded that anyone could possibly believe that raped women have biological mechanisms that prevent them from getting pregnant and, therefore, any woman who does get pregnant must have secretly enjoyed being raped. American decline or American renewal? Relative to other countries, American decline, but when measured locally, American renewal. More Europe or less? I'm not sure what this even means.… More European power? No. More countries in the eurozone? Probably not. More European crises? Definitely. More European influence on other countries? Perhaps in some domains. To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question.… I tweet, but not because I am. I tweet because I am committed to the dissemination of information and the production of knowledge in the hope that doing so will benefit others.