As the founder of Mind Meld PR, our mission is on my mind: we’re storytellers to those who are building the future. So, what does this future look like to us in 2024?
Some of the trends we’re tracking at the intersection of tech, media and public relations? The fall (and rise) of tech hubs across the land. We’re having a bit of a sorcerer’s apprentice moment with AI that’s affecting anything and everything. Tech companies in a tough funding environment are learning to bootstrap again. Cleantech, fintech and other tech sub-sectors are having an overdue rendezvous with reality.
A quick caveat: predictions are necessarily to be taken with a grain of salt. If I’m right about anything, it’s because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants (or just unknowingly stealing ideas from countless podcast interviews, articles, or whatever). To the extent that I turn out to be wrong, well… hey, I’m just a tech PR wonk with a blog. Feel free to reach out and tell me why you think I’m right or wrong about anything.
So, what's in store for the tech scene (and those who work in it, or report on it) in 2024?
Working in tech? You might be working harder than ever
The biggest tech companies around were the absolute worst, for years, when it came to hiring talent. The changes at the top are a reckoning that’s been a long time coming.
When the tech scene was hot, recruiters hired for bad reasons. One reason, vanity: a bigger headcount meant your company was more important (with bloated departments with big salaries going to middle managers that were mostly not building products. Instead, these vainglorious tech apparatchiks focused on building their egos).
Human resources heads (and highly-paid consultants) focused on reaching artificial and arbitrary diversity goals for their paint-by-numbers DEI strategies made this even worse.
(This isn’t something that just happened in tech, by the way. It’s fair to say that DEI hiring policies have sapped the strength of the economy, media scene and the higher institutions that are supposed to be preparing kids for some kind of future. The disgusting, incompetent testimony in front of Congress by the heads of Harvard, Penn State and MIT towards the end of 2023 shows how far we’ve fallen).
Speaking remotely at an event hosted by banking firm Evercore, Silicon Valley VC Keith Rabois said Meta and Google had hired thousands of people to do "fake work" to hit hiring metrics out of "vanity".
Rabois, who was an executive at PayPal in the early 2000s alongside Tesla CEO Elon Musk, said the axing of droves of jobs is overdue. "All these people were extraneous, this has been true for a long time, the vanity metric of hiring employees was this false god in some ways," Rabois said, according to Insider.
"There's nothing for these people to do —it's all fake work. Now that's being exposed, what do these people actually do, they go to meetings."
Elon Musk showed how it could be done when he took over Twitter (now X). The story from CNN is that he basically fired 80 percent of the company (Whoah! He must be a jerk! Who does that?). No question, he did lay off a ton of people. But a lot of people leaving Twitter was voluntary.
What actually happened? Reuters got closer to the target when it reported that Elon gave his people an ultimatum: “Work long hours, at high intensity, or leave.”
The changes at Twitter rebooted a startup culture and created a leaner, more efficient operation, with products being rolled out faster than ever. And once Elon took point on the layoffs, got smacked with a bunch of negative press, but survived… well, then Google, Meta and every other oversized tech company around finally woke up. That means streamlined tech workforces into 2024 and probably beyond.
So is there any good news that will come out of this?
Absolutely. If you’re already working in tech and are the kind of person who finds meaning in achievement, there’s good news. If you thrive in a hard-driving, fast-paced environment where skills and results are all that matter, the next couple of years are going to be awesome for you.
Startup tech hubs will be everywhere and nowhere
We’re back to bootstrap culture, maybe we’re about to see the rise of a flourishing, organic startup ecosystem like we’ve never seen before.
Silicon Valley’s pain is a lot of other places’ gain. Sure, cities like San Francisco still house a good chunk of tech talent, but this city’s reign as the go-to tech hub has been waning for a while now.
So, where is all this talent heading? Austin, Texas is one place. It's got all the right ingredients (land, labor, easy access to markets, low tax, low regulation, energy and enthusiasm) to make a big splash in the tech scene. But other cities like Boston still have a critical mass of innovation and capital. It remains to be seen whether New York will pull itself out of a tailspin of its own making comparable with what’s happening in California (with a high cost of living, out-of-control crime and rampant illegal migration that’s making these places increasingly unliveable).
I foresee tech hubs sprouting across the land, in ‘flyover country' where housing is cheaper, traffic flows easy and you’re not taking your life in your hands (or just risking stepping in human crap) when you walk outside). Now we can build teams over Zoom and Slack and can manage time zones – not exactly rocket science after dealing with Covid.
Some of these newer tech hubs will probably be built directly by refugees from Silicon Valley and elsewhere. With all the tech layoffs in 2023 many skilled professionals will be looking to start their own thing. Not all of them. Not even most. But hey, if you’ve been pulling in $250K or more a year in salary at a big tech company for years - and you weren’t totally stupid with how you spent that, then maybe you (and a couple of your old buddies from Amazon or Meta or whatever) can start building that dream right now.
Venture capitalists, though cautious, are still sitting on a lot of dry powder. For founders, lacking access to easy money, newer startups are now more focused on profitability and fundamentals.
AI might save us or just give our digital hive mind dementia
There's no talking about 2023 without mentioning AI. This year was a landmark for AI's growth, starting with the ChatGPT craze at the start of the year. Throughout the year, we saw a continuous stream of new AI tools, culminating in Google's release of its Gemini LLM in early December.
That’s exciting. But looking at AI through a PR and marketing lens, I see a bit of a problem brewing. We used to worry about bad content on the internet – all that low-quality, search engine-optimized garbage clogging up the Internet. Now, with AI joining the party, I believe we're adding fuel to that fire.
I personally know family members and friends with small businesses and tech startups (and even a few bigger companies) that are building out content for their new websites with ChatGPT-generated content. Now, there’s no question that ChatGPT can write well if you give it the right prompts. But if AI-generated content is getting inspired by other AI-generated content, across industries that span thousands of companies… it’s going to blend together.
It’s going to make it harder to find what you want, not easier. If the Internet is a kind of collective digital consciousness, we’re giving ourselves Alzheimer’s disease.
If AI’s going to continue to be a useful tool (and I fully expect it to be) in 2024, then it needs to stop biting its own tail.
Cleantech needs to clean up its act, as green slush funds run out
Green luxury beliefs are getting awfully expensive and the bill is coming due in 2024. Windmills cause more environmental damage than they solve. Anyone looking at this stuff honestly for a decade has known these facts all along: a lot of renewable energy projects don’t create power unless the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
That’s been the case for a looooong time. But by 2024, thanks to blow-out spending, including billions in green subsidies, that have racked up huge debt and horrific inflation, the cupboards are looking pretty bare. What clean energy companies can continue to survive without that juicy government dole?
Take electric vehicles (EVs), for instance. Despite government enthusiasm, the market response has been lukewarm at best. Tesla seems to be the exception to the rule that all the big carmakers seem to have: EVs lose money. For the likes of Ford, Chevy, BMW, etc, making EVs loses them billions.
Gas guzzlers? They still pay the bills. The ambitious goal of converting all cars to EVs by 2030 or 2035 is a fantasy.
Many companies that pinned their hopes on leading a clean energy revolution. It’s not a bad dream, but it’s not a realistic dream for decades to come. We need to walk before we can run.
Crypto is back from the dead right now. Burn it with fire
On the crypto and blockchain front, despite the setbacks like the FTX fiasco, Bitcoin has bounced back stronger than expected. It's as if this tech Dracula is proving to be unkillable. And while the business case for crypto and blockchain remains questionable in my view, there's a growing interest in digital currencies for government revenue enhancement.
In the U.S. and Canada, we've observed a shift towards more authoritarian governance styles. Could a system akin to China's social credit system arise here? It certainly seems that way. Digital currency could become integral in such a framework, functioning as seamlessly as traditional bank accounts or cash.
As long as you play by the rules, you can keep using your bank card to buy groceries for your family… but if not, well, see how long you last. (Over 800 Canadians have gotten a taste of this already when the government de-banked peaceful protesters for… honking their horns. Or standing too close to other people who honked their horns.)
It's not exactly a sunny forecast for 2024, but I'm betting we'll see the true colors of various technologies – their real-world uses and limitations – come into sharper focus in the coming year.
The news business remains broken. Interventions are not helping
My interview with a journalist on why people don't trust the media anymore remains one of the most popular pieces on the Mind Meld PR blog. That trust remains low, with a Gallup Poll showing just “32 percent of Americans who say they trust the mass media “a great deal” or “a fair amount” to report the news in a full, fair and accurate way.”
It’s not helping that the world of journalism has been hit by the AI wave in recent months. Take Sports Illustrated, for example, which was recently found to be using AI to generate articles (and even the authors bylining them). Paying subscribers are not exactly fans.
Which is to say… it’s worse than ever. Not only do people not trust the media. They don’t even trust that the media are media (and not just ChatGPT with an AI-generated byline and headshot).
I know it’s a bit odd for a PR guy to want to point that out. But hey, until you identify a problem, you can’t start to solve it.
The way out for media companies isn’t for them to try to find even sneakier ways to use AI to save the cost of hiring a human. People do have a hunger for genuine news. So… let’s give it to them.
People want real stories, the kind that comes from old-school, boots-on-the-ground reporting with the exclusive, nitty-gritty facts that you can't just generate with a few clicks. I predict the gumshoe journalist who manages to break scoops will continue to be in high demand.
There’s a big question as to whether that high demand will be for a traditional news outlet or a more indie publication. I get my news from a lot of sources, but Substack subscriptions represent a significant fraction of that. There’s definitely room for an enterprising journalist to effectively write their own ticket.
Since I’m Canadian, I feel like I need to comment on the Canadian media landscape. It’s not pretty out there.
I can’t blame these organizations that took the handouts. The news business has been a cold and ill-funded thing since before I ever went to journalism school or filed my first story.
But there is obviously something gross and evil about the federal government (or more particularly, the Liberal Party)’s insistence of hooking just about every media outlet in the country up to its addictive cash injections. As the first-rate journalist Douglas Murray pointed out in a Musk debate early this year, “Be It Resolved, don’t trust the mainstream media” which he and Matt Taiibi won handily:
“The Canadian mainstream media acted as an amen chorus of the Canadian government,” Murray argued. “Now why is this is rancid? So utterly, utterly, rancid and corrupt? Because in this country your media–your mainstream media–is funded by the government.”
This would be equally bad with any political party in any country, by the way.
Canada’s ruling party provides billions in funding for the media that props it up. It’s obvious and obviously odious. Now, aside from the basic corruption of the scheme… this is hurting the ability of media organizations to adapt to AI and other challenges.
Subsidizing bad business models and relying on machines aren’t long-term strategies, they’re lazy ones. 2023 opened our eyes to what we really value in our news and information. We’re re-learning that good journalism, independent and valuable, is what's worth investing in (and when done right, it can be profitable). I expect this realization to spread in 2024.
Tech will still need storytellers in 2024
While I’m not totally certain that all of my tech predictions will come to life next year, one thing's for sure: storytellers in tech are here to stay. Whether they’re journalists or PR professionals, their role in shaping and sharing the narratives of tech's future builders is going to be critical.
Eager to spotlight your tech in 2024? Contact Mind Meld PR