Think Different (unless it suits your political agenda)
11 April 2018
It’s no secret that the tech industry leans heavily to the left. Your average silicon valley techie is as likely to be left-leaning as your average Hollywood actor. That’s not a knock against either of them, but it should be noted that problems can arise in any industry with singular political thinking.
This is an issue that has only recently come to light for me. I’m normally of the mindset that what goes on behind the scenes of a product is none of my business and none of my concern.
As consumers, the personal opinions of a producer shouldn’t bother us. And if a producer does deny service based on those beliefs, then we have the right to go to their competitor and make them regret seeing any colour other than green.
But what happens when an industry is so overwhelmingly isolated and biased that not only does politics begin to seep into their products, but there is nowhere else for the consumer to go?
This is what I’m afraid is beginning to happen to the tech world, and the ramifications such a growing bubble could have on society is both tremendous and outrageous.
‘Tremendous’ and ‘outrageous’ are also two words that could be used to describe the revelations about Google from former employee, James Damore, who is currently suing the tech giant for discriminatory practices.
You may remember Damore from his famous company memo that circulated the internet a few months back.
In it, he detailed how Google’s obsession with achieving perfect diversity was not only endlessly difficult, due to the innate differences between men and women, but harmed the working environment of its employees who had to fit into a so-called ‘monoculture.’
Damore revealed more information about Google’s ‘ideological echo chamber’ in his lawsuit. Some of the claims include instances of employment discrimination against white males, the blacklisting of conservative individuals, and the encouragement of political violence, to name a few.
This has pretty much confirmed many of the suspicions conservatives have had about Silicon Valley for a while now.
Currently, we cannot be certain that similar tech companies operate in the same way, but the fact that these practices and attitudes are occurring within the most powerful of them could indicate something much larger than previously thought.
Out of all the companies this story could’ve come out of, Google is by far the least surprising.
Who would’ve thought that such a toxic culture bubble could emerge out of a company that makes sure its employees never need to the leave the office. The Googleplex is basically a university campus, and we all know how open to discourse universities are nowadays.
Google strives for diversity in everything other than social and political opinions. I don’t think any workplace should encourage or discourage certain views, but when a company like Google is so intent on appearances and representation, then I guess uniform values are inevitable, with the dispelling of any outsider who dares suggest change.
If the claims of Damore and his unnamed peers are indeed true, I feel incredible sympathy for those working in the tech world who don’t happen to fit squarely into the mould. Such individuals are working in a place dominated by a culture they don’t agree with and are threatened with termination and blacklisting if they don’t comply.
In any business, this kind of growing dissatisfaction and increasingly homogenous workforce will only lead to stagnation, eventually hitting the wallets of every suit on the top floor of the building.
Another insider from the tech world, Sam Altman of Y Combinator, has openly bemoaned the industry’s culture, stating that ‘It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year,’ and that these attitudes ‘will be very bad for startups in the Bay Area.’
His piece was ultimately a plea for free speech, as less open environments invariably lead to ‘restricting ideas and therefore restricted innovation.’
Altman, while a controversial figure to some, is a credible source on this topic. His company has funded over 1000 startups and continues to be a major influence in the tech scene.
When Altman states that he’s seen ‘people working on ideas like pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco because they found the reaction to their work to be so toxic,’ we should all be concerned. If the innovations of the future are being denied in America, they might just spring up in China.
Any industry that strives to innovate must be able to tolerate ideas, good or bad. More often than not, the bad ideas will fall through and the good ideas will be something you never would’ve even thought of.
Steve Jobs once said, ‘people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,’ and that still rings true today.
When we talk about Silicon Valley, when we talk about the tech industry in America, we’re talking about some of the most powerful companies in the entire world. This is not an issue that only insiders should worry about.
If these companies have allowed their own work environment to become so hostile and parochial, how can we trust them to establish neutral platforms?
The Silicon Valley political bubble is real, and it’s a problem that should be fixed from its roots, beginning with the oldest and most powerful of these companies.
Free speech is not something to be fought for only in the nation, but also in the family, the community, and the workplace.