On the morning of Monday, January 4th, welcome news came to all who have a stake in changing the silicon valley tech giants — which is to say, everyone with a stake in how our democracy and economy functions: a new union for Google/Alphabet workers had launched.
The following week, and the days since, have presented perhaps the most fundamental illustration yet of the challenges facing those who’d remake and reform silicon valley. …
(Note: this essay is adapted from a presentation made by the author at IEEE’s ISTAS2020 — it can be viewed here.)
If you’re reading this in the United States, it’s statistically quite likely that you were traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday around this time last year, and are now staying home.
First of all, thank you for your sacrifice and responsibility in not risking the further spread of covid-19 and contributing to the second wave.
I also want to ask you a question that might not seem like it has much to do with Thanksgiving, but I promise you, it…
When I heard Epic Games was going to war with Apple over the app store, I didn’t think of Fortnite.
I thought of Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber.
Kalanick has recently been portrayed as the embodied avatar of the worst traits of Silicon Valley upstart CEOs — crudely misogynistic, utterly without respect for privacy, encouraging a deeply toxic workplace — with a startling God complex.
Literally: in Kalanick’s Uber, employees infamously had access to a “God mode” they could use to spy in real-time on the movements of everyone from ex-partners, to politicians, to celebrities.
Mike Isaac’s page-turner, Super…
If it’s not the single most powerful individual position in the world, it only has a few rivals. Think general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Or the Pope. Or chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve. Or maybe the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
It’s a position that’s been embroiled in a contentious conversation for years now about the scope, and possibly criminal misuse, of the current incumbent’s power: the ability to encourage wars between nuclear powers. To rally or slow down global markets. To end, or initiate, horrifying human rights crises around the world.
The conversation has reached a…
Do you know a shorter way to write this sentence?:
“A podiatrist, an obstetrician, and a heart surgeon walk into a bar.”
Well, that’s pretty easy: “Three doctors walk into a bar.”
Let’s try this one on for size:
“An estate attorney, a public defender, and a Harvard Law professor pick up some sorbet together.”
Well, sure. “Three lawyers get some sorbet.” Asked and answered.
One more: a software engineer, a UX designer, and Sheryl Sandberg go for a bike ride together.
What do you have?
Countering anti-Blackness within our society is a target-rich environment; white supremacist thinking is engrained in every industry, which means a need for each to be improved or totally rebuilt. That includes Silicon Valley and the technology it’s building to fuel our future.
Big Tech’s complicity with structural, systemic anti-Black racism and harming disadvantaged communities has long been evident but little improved. Recent protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many other Black Americans at the hands of police have forced tech workers and executives alike to take it seriously.
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I was having a conversation with a friend the other week, on the mend from non-covid pneumonia. My friend lives in New York, which, at the time of this writing, is the epicenter of a global respiratory pandemic. It was not exactly, as you might imagine, a cheerful conversation.
But there was something he said offhandedly that turned my ear and, with permission, I’d like to share it here:
“Well, at least the future is not canceled.”
“Are you sure about that?
“Yeah, pretty sure. Seems like the future is on hiatus.”
The future is on hiatus.
Right now, my Silicon Valley friends are feeling a lot of things.
Quite understandably — we all are. This is a perilous, slippery moment, one where straightforward precedents are hard to find. We stay home to the greatest extent possible. We hope the ground doesn’t give way from under us. We just don’t know. We wait and see. We work from home if we can.
Many tech workers are fortunate enough to be able to do so. (Though certainly not all of them.) Those who are currently working away from their supervisor’s physical presence and far from the influence of…
“We shine the light on whatever’s worst
Tryna fix something
But you can’t fix what you can’t see…”
– Beyonce, “Pretty Hurts”
Just say what pops into your head first, no Googling. When you hear Amazon.com, who do you think of?
Jeff Bezos, right?
Let’s try this again. When I say Apple, you think…
Steve Jobs or Tim Cook. Automatic. Maybe you threw in Steve Wozniak. (Look at you!)
Well, duh: Mark Zuckerberg, with Sheryl Sandberg trailing behind.
Now let’s try a slightly harder one: who first comes to mind when I say Google?
It’s possible you said…
When you’re representing a point of view that hasn’t been widely propagated in a given debate, it’s only natural to encounter skepticism and resistance. When that point of view challenges “conventional wisdom” around creativity, ingenuity, and human progress, the criticism is fast and furious.
So when I posit that the best way for Silicon Valley to address its problems is through a process that industrial sociologists call “professionalization,” it comes as no surprise that I am more often than not met with a mixture of befuddlement and derision.
Professionalization is the step-by-step process by which a trade or vocation —…
Jumana is the founder of Pivot For Humanity, a non-profit on a mission to professionalize Silicon Valley