Friday, January 27, 2023 -
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‘The Dropout’

Is this the paradox of getting old? On one hand, events that feel like they occurred yesterday happened years ago. On the other hand, it’s hard to remember when certain things didn’t exist.

Those are the contradictory feelings I’m having as I watch the intriguing, baffling and sometimes infuriating series “The Dropout.” In recounting the fraud perpetuated by Elizabeth Holmes and her startup Theranos, the show takes us back to the 2000s, before a time when green juice and wellness were part of daily life, before the Prius, the sub-prime mortgage crash, Twitter, before the iPhone!

I find myself thinking back to the critical year of 2007, when the iPhone was first released. That was the year I moved to Zurich, which seems so recent, but was in fact a whopping 16 years ago! There’s something intensely personal about reading a book or watching a series where the protagonist is around one’s age. I’m much more able not neccesarily to put myself in her shoes, but to place myself into the scene.

Beyond vague recollections of hearing about the possibility of complex blood tests being done with just a pin prick, Theranos wasn’t a story I followed, only becoming aware of it when Holmes was sentenced shortly before last Thanksgiving.

Only at episode four of the acclaimed series, I already have a raft of questions: How could people and firms invest enormous amounts of money in a device that has only been tested a single time and only in a limited manner? How long can a board accept never seeing a working product? How can a CEO lease a massive building and employ hundreds of people without no working product in sight?

Then I transport myself back to the aughts, when Silicon Valley was the New Jerusalem and tech the ticket to gain entry. Every Joe seemed to have an idea for the next great app or startup. As it turned out — unsurprisingly — not every self-professed wunderkind turned out to be Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin.

Most who didn’t succeed shut up shop when they realized their idea either wasn’t good enough or couldn’t be brought to market, the latter the juncture when Holmes, unlike those others, decided to lie instead of admitting failure.

For every Mick Jagger, who famously dropped out of my alma mater, the London School of Economics, how many wannabe rock stars left school but never found success? Holmes thought she was a Steve Jobs, but if she resembles anyone, it’s Sam Bankman-Fried.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at

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