Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Vacuum, according to Om Malik, whom we know personally (although it’s been a while) and for whom we’ve always had great respect, and who, in our opinion, was being kind, or at least diplomatic. “There is a new economic system emerging that is based on consumer capitalism, that innovates ways to eliminate friction of consumption — goods, services, and more than anything else, content — but is doing everything it can to diminish the consumer’s ability to afford the consumption,” says Malik. In explaining the results of the Presidential election (which shocked the tech sector and which we are not going to get into), said Malik, “Globalization is a proxy for technology-powered capitalism, which tends to reward fewer and fewer members of society.”
Tech loves to disrupt and disintermediate. At the same time, it disenfranchises, and people noticed. Except for those people in the tech bubble, and note that he did not say ‘problem:’ he said ‘vacuum.’ They’ve clearly dissociated from the world outside of their monoculture – a word often associated with Silicon Valley, although ‘cultural hegemony’ might be a bit more accurate, but we’ll let that one sit.
Tech’s language bubble may be part of the problem: It might help if we stop referring to people who utilize tech as users or the product and remember that they’re the customers, plain and simple, whether the product itself is free or not. Whether it’s investors or advertisers who are paying the bills, it’s still about eyeballs, which are almost always attached to people/customers, who are ultimately the reason why someone is paying your bills.
Technology led to a huge shift in the work landscape. Welcome to The Emergent Era, said Beth Comstock, which she calls “a time defined by the rapid waning of our legacy institutions, even though their replacements haven’t scaled up yet. We’re in that messy, sometimes anxious, and ambiguous space between the old and the new.”
According to Comstock, the Internet of Things will be the printing press of our time, connecting the planet en masse as did mass print in its time. Again, Brexit and the US elections came up; “The mixture of motives epitomize the positive and negative impulses of life in The Emergent Era.”
And more importantly, the disconnect between tech and those outside of its bubble, as the ‘new’ cloaks itself in hyperbole and hubris, if not disdain for those outside of its orb – or accepted age range.
While the printing press helped to educate and inform, tech is far more invasive – and pervasive – in our lives, whether we like it or not. Mass printing was opt in and not bidirectional: no one was listening to your private conversations, which might have had nothing at all to do with what you were reading in the papers. In case you missed it, Uber can now track passengers’ locations after they are dropped off – even if the app is closed.
What’s not being discussed widely are issues like monopolistic practices (Amazon’s Growing Stranglehold On The U.S. Economy), false algorithms and what amounts to deceptive accounting (Facebook, and it has been going on for quite some time), and what we’ll call naked unicorns (Uber: The taxi unicorn’s new clothes It’s not just Uber’s “innovation” claims which are questionable, it’s potentially the entire business model.), all of which have led to vast accumulations of wealth in the hands of the few, literally at the expense – and loss of privacy – of the many.
Comstock uses an ant analogy in describing societal changes, since ants have the most complex social structures after humans, but when it comes to technology and its influences, it’s not about ants adapting and going about their business but rather more like bees in a hive. How many queens are there in a hive, after all? Only one prevails in each and therein lies the rub. What to speak of, in the case of tech, the worker bees who were made redundant and kicked off the island. At the end of the day, technology has been moving towards displacement and control, and as any scientist well knows, for every action there is a reaction.
What to speak of tech’s hive mind.
“Silicon Valley’s biggest failing is not poor marketing of its products, or follow-through on promises, but, rather, the distinct lack of empathy for those whose lives are disturbed by its technological wizardry,” said Malik.
In other words, the tech sector’s bubble just burst. Whether one calls them users or customers, at the end of the day, people are people – and the customer is always right, as the tech sector recently learned, the hard way. And speaking of hives and turnabout being fair play, that’s gotta sting. Onward and forward.