Did Tech Companies Ever Have Our Best Interests At Heart?

An adapted essay from Noam Cohen new book The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball showed up several weeks in the New York Times in the article Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend. It’s an important one to read slowly and carefully as there are several key points in it.

In the last week, two early Facebook execs made remarkably critical statements about what they were involved in helping create. It started when Sean Parker talked with Axios about how Facebook exploits human psychology.

“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Then, the other day, Chamath Palihapitiya gave a talk at Stanford Graduate School of Business where he said:

“I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”

A decade ago at my MIT Sloan 20th Reunion, I gave a lecture where I said that “privacy was dead, we just don’t know it yet.” I had no idea how prescient that statement would be, but even in 2008, I had a deep unease that we had no real idea what the next decade would bring.

It’s here. When Web 2.0 began in the mid-2000s, there was incredible enthusiasm about how technology was going to change everything. Google’s “Do No Evil” mantra was on everyone’s lips as a rallying cry for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to “change the world” and “make a dent in the universe.” Twitter was becoming the world’s town hall and helping facilitate revolutions like the Arab Spring.

Amy and I were sitting in front of our computers on Sunday working on some stuff. During a pause, we started talking about how different things are from when we first started dating 28 years ago.

I woke up thinking about that this morning. Now that the five most valuable companies in the world are tech companies (Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook with Tencent and Alibaba coming on strong) and the total market cap of cryptocurrencies also being in that league, it’s hard to deny the extreme influence of these companies on our society. As I sit at my desk, typing on my Apple Computer into WordPress in a Chrome browser, listening to music I asked Amazon to play throughout my house, well, you get the idea.

The blog post title is a rhetorical question, so I’ll let you answer it in the comments if you want …


Originally published at Feld Thoughts.

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