Older readers will remember the technology industry from the days when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were young and not particularly interested in anything but hardware and software. Certainly not in a mission to reshape traditional societies.
But as University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds noted last year, Google very publicly fired software engineer James Damore for a memo critiquing the company’s approach to “diversity”: “Various people (most of whom, as The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf noted, seem not to have read Damore’s actual memo, but rather to have been responding to an imaginary document instead) demanded that Damore be fired.” So he was.
That episode highlighted the fact that the social media world now has just such ambitions and Reynolds’s description of that world remains highly quotable a year later:
Since its 1990s heyday, Silicon Valley has transformed from an unruly collection of aggressive upstarts disrupting existing industries to a flabby collection of near-monopolies, now busy enforcing gentry-liberal norms on their employees and customers. Whether it’s censoring right-leaning political figures, or firing employees who dare say something truthful but politically incorrect, there’s not much of the old startup spirit there. These are flabby overstaffed Big Business corporations, run by their HR departments. You might find more dynamism at General Motors, these days. Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Google needs a new CEO, but dumping Sundar Pichai is not enough” at USA Today
By April of this year, 100 employees were complaining about the Google groupthink:
The policies employees say they are fighting for include stopping personal attacks on forums, punishment for employees who leak conversations, and a list of rights for accusers, defendants, and managers, according to Reuters. Employees are also seeking protection against false claims made to human resources and are asking for a moderator to track misconduct in internal discussion forums. “At least 100 Google employees organize to fight cyberbullying, ask for clearer policies” at Silicon Valley Business Journal
Quip making the rounds: Would you trust a self-driving car from Google?
Answer: Sure, if I needed a car that decided for me where I should go and then just drove me there.
Here’s an underlying philosophical issue: Maybe the same company can’t be both the telephone company and the church. Either they’re just here to put through our communications and let us take the consequences or they are here to advise us on how we should communicate, in which case they should not be in charge of putting through the communications. When new competitors and technologies break up the Valley’s monopoly, they will likely be forced to choose.
See also: Politically correct chatbot is truly annoying: If you are a human being who talks to people for a living, don’t quit your job
Imagining life after Google Reviewers of George Gilder’s new book weigh in: If we have simply taken the big software, hardware, and social media companies who dominate our lives for granted, the reactions from the business world to Life after Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy should give us a lot to think about.