The Best Minds of My Generation Are Thinking About How To Make People Click Ads

Jeff Hammerbacher? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous poem “Howl” by Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg begins with a despairing cri de cœur: 1

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…

A very different mordant message was delivered by a Millennial who worried that his cohort was enmeshed in online advertising, and the most gifted were trying to convince people to click on advertisements. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In April 2011 “Bloomberg Businessweek” published a profile of Jeff Hammerbacher, an early employee of Facebook who gathered data about the behavior, relationships, and desires of the users of that quickly growing social network. Ultimately, the data allowed the precise targeting of advertisements, but Hammerbacher developed misgivings. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

After a couple years at Facebook, Hammerbacher grew restless. He figured that much of the groundbreaking computer science had been done. Something else gnawed at him. Hammerbacher looked around Silicon Valley at companies like his own, Google (GOOG), and Twitter, and saw his peers wasting their talents. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” he says. “That sucks.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

“The Wire” of “The Atlantic Magazine” noticed the quotation and reprinted it one day after it appeared on the “Bloomberg Businessweek” website: 3

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.”

–Jeff Hammerbacher, a 28-year-old Silicon Valley tech whiz who went from being an early employee at Facebook to co-founding the data analysis start-up Cloudera, in Ashlee Vance’s BusinessWeek story . . .

In July 2011 the U.K. newspaper “The Guardian” reviewed a book by an early employee at Google who mentioned that the company hired people with science and engineering PhDs who became experts in online advertising: 4

Reading the story of this steady brain-drain from other disciplines (Google’s early network-hardware guy was a former brain surgeon), one recalls what the former Facebook engineer, Jeff Hammerbacher, told BusinessWeek earlier this year: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

In December 2011 the website “Slate” selected “Longform’s Top 10 Stories of 2011”. The editors included the “Bloomberg Businessweek” article in eighth place and reprinted an excerpt containing the quotation by Hammerbacher. 5

Internet culture skeptic and gadfly Andrew Keen included the quotation in his 2015 book “The Internet Is Not the Answer”: 6

Most of these Web 2.0 businesses have pursued a Google-style business strategy of giving away their tools and services for free and relying on advertising sales as their main source of revenue. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” one of Facebook’s engineers dryly notes.

In conclusion, Jeff Hammerbacher crafted this quotation. Currently, he is the Chief Scientist at Cloudera which he co-founded.

Image Notes: Click from geralt at Pixabay.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)


  1. 1989, The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, Topic: Madness, Quote Page 344, Column 1, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. Website: Bloomberg Businessweek website, Article title: This Tech Bubble Is Different, Article author: by Ashlee Vance, Date on website: April 14, 2011, Website description: Business news, (Accessed on June 12, 2017) link
  3. Date: April 15, 2011, News Source: The Wire (USA) (Published as Atlantic Wire (USA)), Article: Quote: The Ad Generation, Author/Byline: Eli Rosenberg, Publisher: Atlantic Media. (NewsBank Access World News)
  4. Date: July 30, 2011, News Source: The Guardian, Article: Review: NON-FICTION: Search and destroy: Steven Poole is impressed but also depressed by an account from ‘Google’s word guy’: I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 by Douglas Edwards, Author/Byline: Steven Poole, News Source Location: London, England. (NewsBank Access World News)
  5. Date: December 30, 2011, Article: Longform’s Top 10 Stories of 2011 – The best overall long-form articles published this year, News Source: Slate (USA), Section: Life, Publisher: Washington Post Newsweek Interactive Co. (NewsBank Access World News)
  6. 2015, The Internet Is Not the Answer by Andrew Keen, Quote Page 60, Atlantic Monthly Press, New York (Verified on paper)