Unsurprisingly, given their privileged status, technocrats like Harris, Williams, Palihapitiya, and Parker continue to believe in the redemptive power of digital technology. They assume that we all want to live mediated lives through technology and that the perils of the medium can be ameliorated by simple common-sense precautions. But we should perhaps be skeptical of accepting an antidote from those who offered us the poison in the first place.
In a time when free-market capitalism is the only game in town, massively centralized tech companies have virtually unfettered reign. Yet the technocrats never mention capitalism. They rarely talk about the surveillance state or the problems with data privacy. They fail to attack the attention economy at its roots or challenge the basic building blocks of late capitalism: market fundamentalism, deregulation, and privatization. They reinforce neoliberal ideals, privileging the on-the-move individual whose time needs to be well spent — a neatly consumerist metaphor.
Silicon Valley doesn’t like to look backward, but this newfound willingness to move slow and make things coincides with the decay of beloved services like Flickr and Tumblr after they were swallowed by larger tech companies. Still, Flickr cofounder Caterina Fake sees the return to these values as cyclical, rather than regressive. “It’s not a lost paradise, but certainly the dynamics were different than they are now,” she says.
Problems began, Fake says, when tech companies introduced features that transformed online networks from communities to media platforms. Facebook may have used the same language of connection and community, but once it optimized News Feed’s algorithm to deliver what kept users engaged, rather than what their friends and family were up to, our attention became a product it could sell to advertisers.
Male executives whose crisis of faith came only after they had an IPO and a baby are their own subgenre. Their perspective, in turn, shapes the way the problem gets defined in TED Talks and tell-alls, in some cases prescribing changes that fail to interrogate the larger tech ecosystem.
The underlying argument for the slow movement, on the other hand, is effectively asking leaders of tech companies not to be capitalists.
This one is so good.