Weekend Longreads: Tech Optimists, Cyberhavens, and Silicon Valley Politics

Mother Jones

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When all the big names in tech—Google, Twitter, Facebook, every website you visit regularly—got together and defeated the Stop Online Piracy Act last year, it was heralded as Silicon Valley’s political awakening. But Northern California’s particular strain of optimism and libertarianism doesn’t play well with the reality of DC politics. Just last month, Paypal founder Elon Musk pulled out of Mark Zuckerberg’s new political action group FWD.us after it ran ads in support of Arctic drilling.

Technology can change the world—for the better, as Silicon Valley likes to say. But it is still bound by laws and bureaucratic politics, and conflicts come up time and again, whether the task at hand involves laying underground cables, making Chicago a paperless city, regulating taxis, or attempting to create your own micronation.

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“Change the World” | George Packer | The New Yorker | May 2013

New Yorker staffer George Packer grew up in Silicon Valley. Decades later he returns to find the shops along University Avenue replaced with headquarters of Google, Facebook, and PayPal. But even as America’s wealth has shifted to the West Coast, political power is a different story. Parker traces the libertarian strains of thinking in the Valley, which can seem uninterested in solving bigger problems:

“San Francisco is a place where we can go downstairs and get in a Uber and go to dinner at a place that i got a restaurant reservation for halfway there,” Path founder Dave Morin said. “And, if not, we could go to my place, and on the way there I could order takeout food from my favorite restaurant on Postmates, and a bike messenger will go and pick it up for me. We’ll watch it happen on the phone. These things are crazy ideas.”
It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.

Also worth reading: this response by writer Steven Berlin Johnson (who is name-checked in the New Yorker piece)—and Packer’s response to that. For those interested in a historical (by tech standards) perspective, Paulina Borsook identified a similar problem in her 1996 essay “Cyberselfish.”

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Weekend Longreads: Tech Optimists, Cyberhavens, and Silicon Valley Politics

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