Tag: politics

Silicon Valley as Ally or Foe? Reflections on the Politics of Income Inequality

The meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries—and the Occupy movement before that—have officially put income inequality on the political radar in the U.S., after years of slow wage growth and a near-catastrophic financial crash. In keeping with the times, Silicon Valley too has begun thinking about inequality. Resident philosopher Paul Graham, venture capitalist and founder of the famous YCombinator startup incubator, wrote an essay on inequality that caused a bit of a ruckus (in Silicon Valley and without). The short version: Graham is not happy with the current rhetorical war on inequality that politicians are waging. He thinks inequality is a natural product of a culture that values startups and innovation, and that a full-scale political fight against inequality is inadvisable. YCombinator recently put out a “Request for Research” to sponsor social science research on Basic Income guarantee schemes. Such a scheme—Silicon Valley’s go-to solution for the rise of inequality and artificial intelligence—would mean every citizen receives a basic income that insulates them from the rise of automation and the progress of technology. (You can apply for the job here.) In this post, I want to reflect on Silicon Valley’s political leanings, which allows me to bring in the fascinating political surveys of start-up founders that journalist Greg Ferenstein has conducted. There are some obvious (and important!) things to say about Graham’s essay and the Basic Income advertisement: that these writings take technology as an autonomous force that shapes society rather than seeing technological change as an outcome of negotiations between interest groups. They are articulations of very Silicon Valley notions of progress. What I really want to talk about, however, is good old-fashioned electoral politics. In the kinds of political alliances and interest groups that will come to define the United States over the next few decades—perhaps as inequality takes an even bigger role in political discourse—could it be possible that Silicon Valley might be an ally for progressive causes rather than a foe (as it often emerges in critical theory analyses)? (read more...)

The Anti-Politics of Women in Tech

Almost daily are news articles about women in tech. Among these on the day I wrote this post, for example, were an article in Marie Claire, the women’s magazine, called “How Much Have Things Really Changed for Women in Technology?” and another in India’s business newspaper Mint titled “Two kinds of pay gap in the IT industry: NetApp’s Mark Bregman.” Both articles touch on several issues about women in tech, and STEM fields more generally; the cornerstone in each, however, is simply the number of women in the tech world—or the lack thereof, compared with men. This is a problem that has been explored since at least the mid-1970s in computer science (e.g., Montanelli Jr. and Mamrak 1976), longer for some other STEM fields. More recently this issue was highlighted last year, particularly in the media and public attention, when large tech companies like Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook released “diversity data” showing the dismal number of women and minorities among their employees. The articles also point to several issues seen as contributing to the disparities, including pay and hiring gaps for women, so-called “brogrammer” culture (involving frat-house-like sociality and performances of technical heroism, generally among men), and implicit biases shaping how women (and men) are perceived and judged. As a former woman in tech—I pursued an undergraduate degree in computer science—I appreciate how this surge in public awareness and interest is helpful to many, particularly in relation to discussions about sexism and tech cultures. Through social media, blogs, and news articles people are sharing and discussing personal experiences and working to further raise awareness of, and gain support for, challenges women as a group face in tech. Tech companies and governments have also pledged a great deal of money towards “fixing” this problem. (read more...)