upon a time, there was a beautiful land filled with bright minds
and gleaming prospects. People called it Silicon Valley, and out
of it flowed knowledge, ideas and innovations that gave us
almost-unthinkable powers to learn, to communicate, to transform
our lives into exactly what we wanted them to be. The region’s
denizens toiled happily at the cutting edge, and day by day, they
were Making the World a Better Place.
today, this beautiful land is under attack from within and
without. The products and services it sends out into the
world are being called addictive, divisive and even damaging,
raising the cry that instead of making the world better, they are
making it worse.
technology plays a deeper and more pervasive role in nearly every
aspect of our lives, the industry that has upended everything from
shopping and travel to education and human relationships is facing
a backlash the likes of which Silicon Valley has never seen.
online content and Russian manipulation of social media platforms
have fueled calls from the right and the left for greater
regulation of firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter. World
wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, Republican U.S. Senator John
McCain, leftist billionaire George Soros, Salesforce CEO Marc
Benioff and conservative Fox News host Tucker Carlson have all
joined the chorus demanding the government take action.
more on teacher giving student a failing grade who
participated in the walkout,
protesters gather outside cafe who refused toserve
uniformed police and the ‘Flintstone
house’ getting some new additions.
argue that the big tech firms have become too economically
dominant, intruded too far into our lives and have too much
control over what gets seen and shared online. At the same time,
critics contend, those same companies have failed to take
responsibility for the misuse of their services by malevolent
actors, for the spread of fake news and for the way their
platforms and algorithms can be gamed.
computer science students are protesting Apple, demanding it make
less addictive devices.
#MeToo movement has amplified a debate over sexual harassment and
diversity in Silicon Valley. And conservatives have attacked the
whole region as a liberal echo chamber that stifles precisely the
open debate it claims to embrace.
makes it categorically different now is that this is the first
time I have seen that people are saying, ‘Hmmm, maybe Silicon
Valley needs to be taken down to size,’ said Leslie Berlin,
project historian for Stanford University’s Silicon Valley
Archives. “This notion that what Silicon Valley represents
actually threatens rather than embodies what makes the
country great, that is new.”
in an open letter this month called the tech giants “a new set of
gatekeepers” whose platforms can be “weaponised” to widen social
rifts and interfere in elections. Benioff told CNBC in January
that social media was “addictive” and should be regulated like
cigarettes. Carlson wants Google treated like a public
utility because it “shuts down free speech for political
reasons.” Former president Barack Obama, at a February
conference at MIT, said social media was Balkanizing public
discourse, creating “entirely different realities” that contribute
to “gridlock and venom and polarization in politics.” Even
Facebook has jumped in with an unusual mea culpa, issuing a news
release in February admitting it was “far too slow to recognize
how bad actors were abusing our platform.”
its critics, Silicon Valley remains hugely successful and
influential, with 21 percent of employed people working in tech,
according to a 2017 Federal Reserve Bank report. Though the
region’s economy has shown some signs of slowing, job growth in
Silicon Valley has been more than double the national rate since
the beginning of the economic recovery in 2010. And the
region remains home to the two most valuable public companies in
the world, Apple and Google’s parent firm Alphabet, as well as
world-class universities. Every day, people
around the world benefit from Silicon Valley-built tools that have
transformed communication, opened access to information, and made
notion that Silicon Valley’s best days are over is far from new —
people have been predicting its demise ever since the advent of
the microprocessor, said Leslie Berlin, project historian for
Stanford’s Silicon Valley Archives.
was going to be the oil shocks of the ’70s that were going to take
it down, and Japanese competition was going to take it down, India
and China, the Dot Com bust, Y2K – it’s just been one thing after
another, the ’08 crash,” Berlin said. “Time and again, Silicon
Valley has bounced back from these perceived threats. Silicon
Valley has always been sort of the golden child of the Golden
this time, Berlin and others see something shifting.
is unprecedented,” UC Berkeley Haas School of Business professor
Abhishek Nagaraj, said of the backlash. “I think this is because
of how deeply penetrated tech is in people’s lives.”
who studies the tech industry, compared the demonization of
Silicon Valley to the outcry against Wall Street after
deceptive investment banking practices knocked the U.S. into the
as if, basically, tech is the new finance,” Nagaraj said.
the public views the tech industry as a force against which
they are powerless, said San Jose State University anthropology
professor Jan English-Lueck, who researches Silicon Valley’s
now on people’s radar screen to be a place of the elite, where
they’re changing the world in a way that ordinary people don’t
have an influence on that change,” English-Lueck said.
the devices and social media platforms created by hugely
successful Silicon Valley tech firms have given us new ways to
connect, they’ve also thrown the worst of human nature into
our faces, said English-Lueck.
don’t have to look in somebody’s eyes when you’re telling
someone something ugly,” English-Lueck said. “That’s really
exaggerated people’s ability to hate.”
believes the optimistic view of technology as the great liberator
and connector helped keep major tech firms from building more
safeguards into their platforms to prevent vicious online attacks,
dissemination of fake news and nation-state intrusions.
we want free speech and free action that’s amplified by the
internet?” she said. “Sometimes we don’t want that.”
Milligan, CEO of pioneering San Jose data-storage firm Western
Digital, doesn’t think technology can solve everything.
Milligan doesn’t buy the notion that Silicon Valley has lost
its bloom. The region’s companies are still trying to solve
“real problems” in the world and having a positive impact on
still cool,” Milligan said. “I actually think it’s more cool.”
Valley boosters such as Peggy Burke, CEO of Palo Alto branding
agency 1185, will tell you the technology industry can fix the
problems it creates.
have to weigh the good and the bad, and if the bad gets so bad
that it outweighs the good, someone will solve for that,” Burke
said. “If there’s a problem — traffic, transportation, housing,
stopping Russians, fake news — someone in the Valley right now is
working on solving for that problem. I’ve been in the Valley
for 30 years and I’ve seen it happen over and over.”
A reckoning for the region is likely, but it won’t be a fatal one,
Berkeley’s Nagaraj said. The problems arising from technology
will exacerbate the ongoing decentralization of innovation, as boot
camps bring entrepreneurial skills to new regions, and clusters of
expertise — in “deep learning” artificial intelligence in Toronto,
for example — lead to cooperative projects linking the Valley to
other areas, he said.
going to be a much more collaborative process than one of
replacement,” he said. “We are moving to a world where not all the
big hits come from Silicon Valley.”