Peter Thiel gets real

4 Feb|Tom Hodgkinson

Trump adviser and donor Perter Thiel, the Facebook and PayPal billlionaire

There was a nice piece in the Guardian this week by Simon Jenkins headlined: “We’re over the digital revolution. This is the age of experience.” In it Mr Jenkins celebrates the resurgence of vinyl sales, real film photography, printed books and live events.

In 2008, when I alerted Guardian readers to the monopolistic nature of an American ad sales business called Facebook, I was accused of “living in a cave”. The simple act of refusing to give all my personal details, for free, to a data-gathering organisation which would then sell those details to the highest bidder was seen as making me hopelessly Luddite (actually, the Luddites weren’t really Luddites, but that’s another story).

In fact I was writing in the spirit of William Morris, who in his own age saw the great ugliness of the Industrial Revolution all but destroy artisanal crafts and good quality workmanship. 150 years on, and it is William Morris who is remembered and celebrated, not the mill owners and greedy capitalists. Like the Industrial Revolution, the Digital Revolution promised freedom but instead brought a new kind of slavery. And exactly as happened in the Industrial Revolution, we ordinary people are encouraged by our rulers to stand in awe and gaze lovingly the clever men with their amazing machines. In the 19th century they lived in Manchester. Now they live in Silicon Valley.

One of the most prominent and successful of these digital evangelists is the Californian billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel. Again, I profiled him in my Guardian piece on Facebook. He is undoubtedly a brilliant man and made the first significant investment in Facebook. He also co-founded PayPal. So he is not short of a few bob; he has made billions out of us poor techno-slaves. He donated over a million dollars to the Trump campaign and has now joined the Evil One as tech adviser. Thiel reckons money and science will overcome essay nature, and has invested in life extension technologies – in other words, he reckons that he can create the elixir of everlasting life.

Thiel recently bought land and property on New Zealand, which is the favoured post-apocalyptic hotspot for paranoid billionaires who reckon that the world might end soon. So when the world ends, Thiel will escape to his self-sufficient geek’s paradise.

Well, we at the Idler have always been strong supporters of the real. That’s why we’ve been running areas at festivals for a decade. That’s why we ran a bookshop for five years, And that’s why we have relaunched the Idler as a gorgeous print magazine. And that’s why we support the craft revolution of today.

Seems many of our readers have similar feelings: in our recent survey, 30% of you said that you were not on social media, so huzzah to that!