The billionaire tech giants of Silicon Valley tend to be viewed as innovative geniuses compared to their east coast counterpart: Wall Street. They are universally beloved by consumers who see them as progressive, almost utopian corporations in contrast to the greedy Gordon Gekkos in Manhattan. They certainly don’t get the same criticism as, let’s say, Monsanto or Exxon–both of which are also basically technology companies at this point.
But Silicon Valley and Wall Street share much in common: they are both principally dominated by rich, white men who lack empathy for the people their businesses destroy. Om Malik at the New Yorker puts it well:
Like Brexit, the election of Donald Trump has focussed attention on the sense that globalization has eroded the real prospects and hopes of the working class in this country. Globalization is a proxy for technology-powered capitalism, which tends to reward fewer and fewer members of society.
My hope is that we in the technology industry will look up from our smartphones and try to understand the impact of whiplashing change on a generation of our fellow-citizens who feel hopeless and left behind.
The key phrase here is “technology-powered capitalism.” Technological advancements since the cotton gin through to the atom bomb and the iPhone have been instrumental to the dominance of capitalism. As user-friendly as they hope to be, technology companies are designed to pursue profit, not the well-being of people or the environment, and the results are all around us.
What the article leaves out is the consequences of technology-powered capitalism in other nations and on the planet itself. The mines where children dig up minerals for our laptops; the factories with suicide prevention nets where the world’s poorest people make our iPhones; the sweatshops where impoverished workers make our clothes; the list is endless. In every corner of the world, Capital has figuratively and often literally enslaved the poorest of the poor, forcing them to toil away making toys they’ll never afford, all for the enjoyment of westerners. The environmental consequences–from global warming to oil spills–have been catastrophic and promise only to worsen in the coming decades.