Maybe the real problem of Silicon Valley...
is not fake innovation, or surveillance.
(This is a commented synthesis of “The Real Trouble With Silicon Valley”)
“In the new economy, human invention increasingly makes physical resources obsolete,” said Ronald Reagan in 1988. In those years, even US Democrats believed computer technology would provide opportunity on the scale of the New Deal. What we got, instead, is a “digital-first” economy that creates bigger problems than fake news, surveillance and everything else that’s wrong with today’s social media.
Software has hardly remade the PHYSICAL world
Talent, time, and capital have almost exclusively gone a narrow band of human endeavor - digital technology. Instead of a meaningful industrial revolution, we only got a revolution in consumer convenience. Instead of computer driving cars, we’ve had an explosion of computers exploiting precarious contractors to allow consumers to summon products and services to their door. But the physical world of today’s cities is a product of inventions of one hundred years before, or more.
More innovation and growth? Where?
Even if the current model of economic growth still made sense,“the computer age has coincided with a decline in the rate of economic growth”. And, by most measures, individual innovation is in decline. In 2015, for example, Americans were far less likely to start a company than they were in the 1980s.
The problem with Silicon Valley…
The tech giants of Silicon Valley have grown as large as the problems they create. The most visible one is their most profitable business model, based on tracking and manipulating human behavior. In doing so, they have also greatly contributed to greater inequality than in the recent past. Today, eighty percent of venture-capital investment goes to just three states - California, New York, and Massachusetts. From an R&D standpoint, the supremacy of “Big Tech” is without precedent. What’s worst, I would add, Big Tech has become way too much like Big Banks.
and the REAL problem, that is distraction
Of course, it is not the fault of Silicon Valley if there are, in the US and elsewhere, bad governance and other problems embedded in the very nature of current macroeconomic models.
The real problem of today’s Silicon Valley is that it has redefined innovation in ways that are way too limited and just plain dumb. The real problems are that, in the “attention economy”:
- at the individual level, “talents have devolved from versatility to specialization”, too often only in “the ethereal world of software and digital optimization”
- Society-wise, the Silicon Valley model “saps talent [and MONEY, of course!] from other industries that might benefit from more innovation”, from healthcare to housing and other physical infrastructures
The result is that, even when they do not destroy competition, Big Tech distracts everybody from solving real problems. Or, as the article puts it, is that “Too much ingenuity is chasing problems that simply don’t matter”. Instead of disrupting TOILETS, for example. Time to change, isn’t it?