At her blog Infotropism, Alex “Skud” Bayley posts about what Silicon Valley is doing to our civilization, and why she still doesn’t want to work for Google.
Since I’ve been out of the Silicon-Valley-centred tech industry, I’ve become increasingly convinced that it’s morally bankrupt and essentially toxic to our society. Companies like Google and Facebook — in common with most public companies — have interests that are frequently in conflict with the wellbeing of — I was going to say their customers or their users, but I’ll say “people” in general, since it’s wider than that. People who use their systems directly, people who don’t — we’re all affected by it, and although some of the outcomes are positive a disturbingly high number of them are negative: the erosion of privacy, of consumer rights, of the public domain and fair use, of meaningful connections between people and a sense of true community, of beauty and care taken in craftsmanship, of our very physical wellbeing. No amount of employee benefits or underfunded Google.org projects can counteract that.
I get calls from Google from time to time, but since I downshifted ten years ago after getting the boot from my IBM contract, I'm planning to hang on to my part-time telecommuting position as long as practical (while hopefully ramping up my shiatsu practice, my writing career, and whatever else cool I get get going).
There's no question that tech is a two-edged sword in terms of its social impacts. On the one hard we have a highly lucrative industry devoted to controlling people's use of it, to turn computers and networks into more effective tools for the mind control we call "advertising", to promote technological devices as yet another path to rampant consumption; walled gardens with inescapable personalized billboards. On the other we have those who want to empower people via technology, the Free Software movement, the cypherpunks and their successors in projects like WikiLeaks, and the use of tech by opposition movement in authoritarian countries (including Occupy in the U.S.).
I think that in the end, the first principle of the cyberpunks (as articulated by William Gibson) will hold: The Street Finds Its Own Uses For Things. Google and Facebook have theses things that they want to use to put eyeballs in front of advertisers; and the masses will go along, as they always do. But right now, some smart kid or some aging hippie grandma is figuring out another way to subvert the eyeball slavery, maybe just to make something amusing, but maybe to change the world.