George Packer’s article “Change the World” in the 27 May issue of The New Yorker is a thoughtful and damning survey of the tech industry’s political inclinations. It’s a must-read for anyone in startup land, but unfortunately the magazine’s publisher has shrouded it behind subscriber-only access, ensuring that its influence will be limited. (Condé Nast’s approach to digital access to its content still sets the industry standard for being inaccessible and user-unfriendly.)
Packer turns a cold eye on the tech industry at large, and on Silicon Valley and its environs specifically, questioning the true motivations behind and implications of countless companies’ collective desire to “change the world.” The Internet Age has made great breakthroughs and great wealth possible for virtually anyone who has the means to enter the fray of the technorati, but Packer argues that it has done scant little to truly improve the world around it. Tech companies create billions of dollars in real and virtual wealth, but the economy at large remains frustratingly sluggish, with incomes stagnant and employment barely growing. San Francisco, in particular, “is becoming a city without a middle class,” and private school enrollment soars in the Bay Area while public schools whither everywhere. Packer argues that the industry has come to believe that it can better the world by looking after itself first and last, effectively shirking any broader civic obligations, and that it generally regards government as a ruinous wasteland to be avoided and routed around, rather than as a means for social good.
I recommend you get your hands on this article in some form if you haven’t yet, but in the meantime you can get a taste for Packer’s sober and insightful reasoning in this follow-up blog post he wrote, which Condé has graciously made available to all comers. Packer’s original article appeared just before Yahoo acquired Tumblr and Tim Cook appeared before Congress to answer questions about Apple’s labyrinthine tax avoidance strategies, and he addresses both of those events in this blog post.
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