Oh dear, it hasn’t been a good few weeks for Silicon Valley. Along with the NSA scandal, there appears to be more and more criticism of Big Tech from mainstream, heavyweight American journalists like Nicholas Thompson and Paul Krugman. And leading the charge in this Silicon Valley bashing is the New Yorker staff writer and award-winning author George Packer. In both his new book, The Unwinding, and particularly in his recent New Yorker story “Change The World”, Packer warns that the love affair is over and Silicon Valley has lost its resonance with the rest of America. Packer should know. He grew up in Mountain View when it was a sleepy little town in the Valley of Heart’s Delight, not much different from any other middle class American community.
But now, Packer told me, the “massive wealth” in Mountain View and the rest of Silicon Valley makes it “as far from North Carolina as Burma.” So what needs to change in Silicon Valley, I asked Packer, if it is to make itself relevant once again with the rest of America. Firstly, Packer told me, Silicon Valley needs to develop “daring” and “adventurous” technological advances that solve big problems. And secondly, he says, we’ve got to “scale down” our “self-regard” and recognize that we aren’t essentially different from any other successful industry and thus aren’t really changing the world.
So are we going to listen to the advice of grown-ups like George Packer? Or are we going to continue to build products designed to make life more efficient for privileged 20-year-olds, thereby making ourselves more and more irrelevant to the needs of ordinary Americans?