h+ Mafia? No.

What did Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch find when she took a look “Inside the DNA of the Facebook Mafia”? There is the same kind of “in the family” interactions between the various companies started by ex-Facebook employees as there are for the other technology mafia since the 1990s, but in addition there seems to be a shared world view and technology perspective. The Facebook Mafia does not just share DNA; it appears Mark Zuckerberg has been cloned multiple times!

Recently I have been thinking a lot about h+ and what impact it did or did not have. For those of you who don’t know, several friends and I started a transhumanist club at the University of Arizona in 2006. We grew quickly. I also took over a club in Phoenix and rebranded it as h+ Phoenix. For nearly three years the two clubs met regularly in their respective locations. I often traveled from Tucson to Phoenix for the monthly h+ Phoenix meetings.

Today these clubs are all but defunct; h+ Tucson has tried to restart a few times but we have not been able to reach the same threshold of members and enthusiasm we did back in 2006. Many of the members of h+ Tucson and h+ Phoenix have now migrated to the Bay Area or other destinations to continue educations, start companies, and otherwise participate in the emerging technologies revolution. Could these members be considered a h+ Mafia?

The answer is clearly “No”. The attributes Lacy outlines in her article do not apply to the former members of h+. While a few of them work together, there has been little entrepreneurial interaction beyond a flurry of activity soon after the diaspora began. The level of support between projects is not what you see in true technology mafia.

While transhumanists share enthusiasm for using technology to improve the human condition, this turns out not to be the kind of world view and technology perspective that would lead to the kinds of interactions between former members of an organization that Lacy lists. Thinking back to our meetings, there were clearly different world views in play. Although we were ostensibly sharing the same interests, our approaches to technology were in fact very, very different. Facebook benefited from a group of young software engineers who developed a passion and approach to technology you see reflected in Jumo, Asana, Quora, Path, and the other companies formed by Facebook alumni. The various projects by former h+ members are very different in their approach.

The members of h+ were not all software engineers. They were a diverse group of individuals from various backgrounds with different skill sets. The debates we had were not about software, but about things like consciousness, the right technologies to support, whether only an elite could or should benefit from these technologies, and others. Outside of the club and working on various transhumanist-related projects, a very few members found they could work together, but many others found they could not. There was a lot of drama heard on the grapevine over that first year when members started leaving h+ and taking on their own projects. Today, you find most of the members working on separate projects, with some friendly contact between former members but nothing like the family activity of a technology mafia.

There have been technology mafias from within the transhumanist community. Look no further than Immortality Institute. Several of the co-founders and leaders have gone on to important new projects, but in addition, they often support each other with funding, leadership, and other interactions that are every bit as impressive as the “in the family” activities of the Facebook or Paypal Mafias. Although the wider ImmInst community was very diverse in thought, the leaders of ImmInst tended to be on the same wavelength, and this has continued to play out in their post-ImmInst activities.

I am not suggesting that because they do not represent a h+ Mafia the former members of h+ are failures. In fact, they are unquestionably very successful! I am also not suggesting that we were not a family. At our height, the other members of h+ were about the only family I could tolerate! I am simply observing that the particular attributes that lead to technology mafias were not present in the h+ clubs, for some understandable reasons. The impact we had on transhumanism, and the world, is mostly still to be written, but it will not be as a mafia.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.

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