Silicon Valley is a model of economic prosperity and a beacon of technological progress. But has the once-idealistic tech industry lost its way?
Critic Douglas Rushkoff thinks so. He remembers fondly when the Internet was shaping up as a tool to promote economic opportunity, free expression and equitably distributed wealth. Alas, he argues in Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, the utopian dream has given way to a dystopian nightmare.
Rushkoff, an academic and author, passionately outlines all the ways the digital economy has gone wrong. He sees an economic picture clouded by soaring rents in Silicon Valley and an ever-greater concentration of wealth on Wall Street.
Most of all, he dislikes the tech economy’s unrelenting obsession with continually beating last year’s numbers.
“Growth is the single, uncontested, core command of the digital economy,” Rushkoff writes. “… By reducing human beings to mere cogs in a machine, we created the conditions to worship growth over all other economic virtues.”
He’s troubled that companies such as Facebook and Google are forced to pursue a strategy of growth at all costs, which leaves their millions of users as little more than data points to be mined. Rushkoff’s progressive sensibilities veer left of center, so it’s unlikely that his prescriptions for such fixes as local currencies and a guaranteed minimum wage will find much traction in the US.
Still, Rushkoff makes a compelling case that the global economy in general and Silicon Valley in particular have been snared in “a growth trap.” He points to Twitter as an unfortunate example. The microblogging service has been hugely successful in attracting users and giving citizens in repressive regimes a way to express themselves freely.
Despite all its good points, Twitter has been hammered by Wall Street for not relentlessly monetizing its traffic.
“It’s not that Twitter isn’t successful; it’s just not successful enough to justify all the money investors have pumped into it,” Rushkoff writes.
In his memoir, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone acknowledges that Twitter in some ways was a victim of its own success. “We were consistently surprised by the adoption of our service,” Stone writes in Things a Little Bird Told Me.
That led to Twitter’s platform being overwhelmed by traffic so often that its “Fail Whale” became a recognizable bit of Internet lore. Later, Twitter shares became a symbol of overpromising and underdelivering. Unlike Rushkoff, however, Stone chalks up any downsides as the cost of doing business in Silicon Valley.
“It’s a little abnormal to have three CEOs in three years,” he writes, “but the turbulence at Twitter was the reality of what happens when a startup is successful.”
Visit getAbstract.com’s library of summaries for more insight into the good and bad of the Silicon Valley tech boom.