Startups, Execs, and Undergrads: This Boat Cruise Is Your Nightmare

As young technologists become more convinced they're on the verge of improving the entire human condition, they find society unfit. They go to privately owned mountains, or in this case, a giant boat voyage across the eastern hemisphere. Self-importance, hundreds of kids from UVA, and no escape.

The preciosity of the "Unreasonable at Sea" program is manifest—what else but a floating TED Talk would brand itself as a techno-quirkfest on the ocean? The premise is as murky as the water: idealistic startup teams trade equity in their company in exchange for a cruise around the world, access to Microsoft executives, "mentors" like Prince Fahad Al Saud, a Stanford professor, a Google VP, and other Silicon Valley brass. Add in some drum circles, PowerPoint presentations, and choreographed greetings from natives at each port, and you've got enough Instagram fodder to make it all worthwhile. Charity Water, minus the charity.

The whole thing hijacks, like Somali marauders by way of Menlo Park, a Semester at Sea program. And so there were, the New York Times notes, "also on board, for sex appeal: 630 college students, who cracked open their textbooks while tanning poolside."

Startups, Execs, and Undergrads: This Boat Cruise Is Your Nightmare

What's more of a buzzkill than your exotic, expensive semester abroad ruined by a bunch of nerds who talk like this?

“The pitch was, do you want to be a part of this learning experience about what it takes to take innovation global?” said Mr. Kembel, who brought his wife and three young sons on the voyage.

[...]

“Today,” he added, “what creates wealth is what you share, not what you hide.”

In the daily workshops, young executives bonded over their shared sense of social entrepreneurship. “Passion” and “community,” not “monetize,” were the words of choice.

“We believe empathy is what builds empires,” Mr. Epstein recited.

The Times says uncouth socializing was curbed by "frequent admonitions that entrepreneurs not hook up with undergrads," which I'm sure worked about as well on a boat as it would in a dorm. Who can resist "Empathy is what builds empires" whispered into your ear, as you look out over the waves and dream of Facebook integration?

Like Summit Series, the "Unreasonable at Sea" voyage restates tech's apparently infinite ego. Its acolytes aren't just smarter than us, nobler than us, and on the path to be richer than us—they need to be separated from us, because we couldn't possibly understand what it's like. We can only hope that when they returned from these spirit trips, they let us join the betas.

Photo: Cesar Harada