Silicon Valley’s Dangerous Religion
Continuing the technology-scepticism of previous posts, I came across an article about Google that’ll effectively serve to eradicate any remaining optimism you may have had about our internet-enabled utopia arriving any time soon.
In Has Google Gone Gaga, a scathing demolition of Google’s vision of the future, The Sunday Times’s Bryan Appleyard finds exactly the same pain point that Evgeny Morozov so effectively identified:
“The Singularity, Ayn Rand, the elitism, the moral pretensions and the dreams of island states are all sending the same message – that Silicon Valley is a small, highly intelligent, obsessive, hubristic and deluded community. Its values are not ours. We should, of course, embrace its ingenuity and the gadgets it showers upon us, but we should be wary of the ‘terms and conditions’ attached. These include not just the inane legalisms that come with the software, but also the ideology, the rhetoric, the world-dominating fantasies and, of course, the tax avoidance.”
This cult-like Silicon Valley mentality expresses itself in many different ways:
- A form of techno-fetishism where [big data/mobile apps/the industrial internet/augmented reality/any other hip trend du jour] are presented as the key to a richer future for all, with slickly produced TED-talks as the preferred propaganda medium;
- Big dotcom companies headquartered at insular corporate campuses with a dizzying array of extracurricular services (laundry, restaurants, gyms, libraries, etc) so no one ever need to leave work except to sleep, effectively becoming isolated little worlds where the harsh realities of daily life are kept at arms length;
- Incestuous venture capitalist circles through which previous dotcom millionaires fund fledgling startups with valuations based on nothing but hyped up coverage on technology blogs;
- The wholehearted embrace of frighteningly ignorant anti-government & anti-regulation libertarianism as the key to unlocking a technology-enabled nirvana for all mankind;
- All this founded on an astounding level of intellectual hubris, emerging from the painfully mistaken assumption that the Silicon Valley elite is smarter than everyone else and should be given the freedom to experiment at will.
Fortunately the voices opposing this navel-gazing quasi religion are growing, with recent books from Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier serving as welcome antidotes to this Scientology-like cult behaviour.
This double review of Morozov’s and Lanier’s books in the Times Literary Supplement is a very worthwhile read, and highly recommended if the aforementioned Bryan Appleyard article got your curiosity peaked.