Silicon Valley and (a)politics – Change the World

My colleague Andrea just mentioned to me this exceptional article about Silicon Valley and its lack of interest, not to say distrust, for politics. It’s been published in the New Yorker in May 2013 and is entitled: Change the World – Silicon Valley transfers its slogans—and its money—to the realm of politics by George Packer.

130527_r23561_p233“In Silicon Valley, government is considered slow, staffed by mediocrities, and ridden with obsolete rules and inefficiencies.” Illustration by Istvan Banyai.

All this is not so far from a recent post I published: The Capital Sins of Silicon Valley. George Packer’s analysis is however profound, subtle and quite fascinating. I will not analyze the article, you have to read it even if it is a vrey long article, and to encourage you in doing so, here are just five quotes:

– “People in tech, when they talk about why they started their company, they tend to talk about changing the world,” Green said. “I think it’s actually genuine. On the other hand, people are just completely disconnected from politics. Partly because the operating principles of politics and the operating principles of tech are completely different.” Whereas politics is transactional and opaque, based on hierarchies and handshakes, Green argued, technology is empirical and often transparent, driven by data.

– Morozov, who is twenty-nine and grew up in a mining town in Belarus, is the fiercest critic of technological optimism in America, tirelessly dismantling the language of its followers. “They want to be ‘open,’ they want to be ‘disruptive,’ they want to ‘innovate,’ ” Morozov told me. “The open agenda is, in many ways, the opposite of equality and justice. They think anything that helps you to bypass institutions is, by default, empowering or liberating. You might not be able to pay for health care or your insurance, but if you have an app on your phone that alerts you to the fact that you need to exercise more, or you aren’t eating healthily enough, they think they are solving the problem.”

– a system of “peer production” could be less egalitarian than the scorned old bureaucracies, in which “a person could achieve the proper credentials and thus social power whether they came from wealth or poverty, an educated family or an ignorant one.” In other words, “peer networks” could restore primacy to “class-based and purely social forms of capital,” returning us to a society in which what really matters is whom you know, not what you could accomplish. (…) Silicon Valley may be the only Americans who don’t like to advertise the fact if they come from humble backgrounds. According to Kapor, they would then have to admit that someone helped them along the way, which goes against the Valley’s self-image.

– “There is this complete horseshit attitude, this ridiculous attitude out here, that if it’s new and different it must be really good, and there must be some new way of solving problems that avoids the old limitations, the roadblocks. And with a soupçon of ‘We’re smarter than everybody else.’ It’s total nonsense.”

– “This is one of the things nobody talks about in the Valley,” Andreessen told me. Trying to get a start-up off the ground is “absolutely terrifying. Everything is against you.” Many young people wilt under the pressure. As a venture capitalist, he hears pitches from three thousand people a year and funds just twenty of them. “Our day job is saying no to entrepreneurs and crushing their dreams,” he said. Meanwhile, “every entrepreneur has to pretend in every interaction that everything is going great. Every party you go to, every recruiter, every press interview—‘Oh, everything’s fantastic!’—and, inside, your soul is just being chewed apart, right? It’s sort of like everybody’s fake happy all the time.”

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