Essays on Technology and Culture

The Valley’s Progress Myth

This problem of meaning is brought to a head in Silicon Valley. In trying to answer the question, “what does all this new technology mean for us?” Silicon Valley executives, investors and journalists often default to a story about human progress. Moreover, many in Silicon Valley are so privileged and talented that they can ask themselves what they would like their work to mean beyond simply making them richer. Venture capitalists (VCs) and entrepreneurs regularly invoke phrases like “make a difference,” “have an impact,” or “change the world,” which suggest that they at least partially view their work in moral terms; in terms of beneficence. Of the thousands of investments VCs might screen per year, they end up funding less than one percent. Yet, it is troublingly hard to glean consistent moral criteria from their investment choices. For people with so much discretion, one would think a robust concern with “changing the world” in any meaningful, moral sense, would at least preclude them from investing in companies such as Zynga; or, for that matter, cause them to fire the management team of Uber.

Morality and the Idea of Progress in Silicon Valley | Berkeley Journal of Sociology

There’s a very specific definition of progress in Valley culture, and it’s intrinsically tied in with the idea of “productivity” and “efficiency.” Optimizing for it often has a very human cause, one that gets brushed under the rug as simply the price of progress. It’s time to start questioning that narrative.