Silicon Valley is in danger of becoming the next ‘Wall Street,’ the villainous epicenter of America’s heartless financial industry – a magnet for ambitious bankers bound for greed and glory.
So concludes Om Malik, the highly respected founder and former senior writer for GigaOM, now a partner in the San Francisco venture capital firm True Ventures, writing in this week’s The New Yorker.
Paving the road to Silicon Valley’s moral ruination is a generation of brilliant engineers, programmers, entrepreneurs, and investors, all with a distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disrupted by its technological wizardry.
Propelling the slide is a penchant for data-driven technology which tends to insulate product designers, and companies, from the effects and consequences of the Valley’s get-rich-quick culture. People become numbers; algorithms become the rules, and reality becomes what the data says, Malik observes, noting that companies focussed on engagement and growth are most likely not talking about human feelings in their product meetings.
This lack of empathy in technology design isn’t because the programmers who write algorithms are heartless. More likely, they have never experienced the kind of trauma of the have-nots at the margins of society, lacking “the texture of reality outside the technology bubble,” not unlike the forces that brought us Brexit and Trump.
Read Om Malik’s take on today’s wave of political populism, the coming of ‘The Wolves of Silicon Valley’ like Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Uber, and why Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Vacuum.
Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Vacuum
By Om Malik , November 28, 2016
Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry.
Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry. Photograph by Scott Eells / Bloomberg / Getty
Silicon Valley seems to have lost a bit of its verve since the Presidential election. The streets of San Francisco—spiritually part of the Valley—feel less crowded. Coffee-shop conversations are hushed. Everything feels a little muted, an eerie quiet broken by chants of protesters. It even seems as if there are more parking spots. Technology leaders, their employees, and those who make up the entire technology ecosystem seem to have been shaken up and shocked by the election of Donald Trump.
One conversation has centered around a rather simplistic narrative of Trump as an enemy of Silicon Valley; this goes along with a self-flagellating regret that the technology industry didn’t do enough to get Hillary Clinton into the White House. Others have decided that the real villains are Silicon Valley giants, especially Twitter, Facebook, and Google, for spreading fake news stories that vilified Clinton and helped elect an unpopular President.
These charges don’t come as a surprise to me. Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry. Two years ago, on my blog, I wrote, “It is important for us to talk about the societal impact of what Google is doing or what Facebook can do with all the data. If it can influence emotions (for increased engagements), can it compromise the political process?”
Perhaps it is time for those of us who populate the technology sphere to ask ourselves some really hard questions. Let’s start with this: Why did so many people vote for Donald Trump? Glenn Greenwald, the firebrand investigative journalist writing for The Intercept, and the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore have listed many reasons why Clinton lost. Like Brexit, the election of Donald Trump has focussed attention on the sense that globalization has eroded the real prospects and hopes of the working class in this country. Globalization is a proxy for technology-powered capitalism, which tends to reward fewer and fewer members of society.