published Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

'We now have a stalker economy,' Al Gore says at Southland Conference in Nashville

QUOTES FROM SOUTHLAND

“Innovation is happening in lots of places outside of Silicon Valley and that’s partly why I’m so excited to be here.”

— Bill Ready, CEO Braintree

“Selling other people’s stuff is not a viable business model anymore because you cannot do it for an extended period of time, so we’re creating our own brand. We’re trying to create the Nike of boots.”

— John James, CEO, Acumen Brands

“The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard is that the trials you go through and the blessings you receive are the exact same thing.”

— Tristan Walker, CEO, Walker & Company Brands

NASHVILLE — Former Vice President Al Gore had his audience both howling with laughter and furrowing their brows as he spoke on capitalism, technology and America’s “stalker economy” at the Southland Conference on Tuesday.

The technology and entrepreneurship conference continues today in Nashville, and has drawn business leaders from across the Southeast.

At Tuesday’s event, Gore said capitalism is good for America — but that it has overstepped its bounds in recent years and “hacked” the democratic system.

“Capitalism unlocks a higher fraction of human potential,” he said. “[But] among those of us that were happy that the American system was now triumphant … some began to say, “Wait a minute, capitalism is so good it can begin to take over in some areas of democracy.’”

“Now a politician has to spend five hours a day begging rich people for money, so it’s easy for politicians to ignore the public interest,” he added.

He is confident that the spread of the Internet will help democracy gain back its rightful place.

“The Internet comes along, and once again, individuals can enter the conversation and have their ideas treated according to a meritocracy of ideas,” he said.

But he mentioned some caveats for Internet users, too.

“Governments – that’s one threat; businesses are also collecting more information than they should. We now have a stalker economy where businesses are finding out everything about you.”

  • photo
    Former supermodel Christy Turnlington Burns, left, speaks during an interview with Sarah Lacy during the opening night of the Southland tech conference at Marathon Music Works on Monday in Nashville, TN.
    Photo by The Tennessean /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When asked whether he thinks Edward Snowden is a traitor or a hero for revealing exactly this kind of business stalking, Gore said he doesn’t brand Snowden either way, but that on a spectrum he thinks Snowden is closer to a hero.

“He violated a law and that’s not right, but the documents he provided violated the Constitution. So he provided a public service,” Gore said.

Gore also spoke about his relationships with both Apple and Google, mentioning that he met Steve Jobs in the 1970s when Apple was still a new company.

“When I left the White House in 2001, I reconnected with him and got to know a bunch of the young entrepreneurs out there,” Gore said. “In 2004, I accepted Steve’s invitation to join the Apple board.

“I used to stay at his house with Laurene and the kids,” Gore added. “I miss him a lot.”

Gore was also on Google’s board of advisors for a time, but when tensions between Google and Apple rose he had to “pull back.”

When asked about start-ups, the former vice president emphasized the wisdom that comes from failure.

“You grow the most when you go through the most difficult, painful experiences. And of course in the tech world, failure is definitely a part of it. Being an investor now – they say 1 out of seven startups makes it and that might be optimistic. But it’s the risk and the excitement that keeps [you] going.”

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