October 18, 2018

State of the Art: Silicon Valley’s Keystone Problem: ‘A Monoculture of Thought’

Consider, for instance, how women are treated in “The Big Disruption.” Anahanta is egregiously misogynistic, which Ms. Powell said was inspired by her time at Badoo more than Google (though Google, of course, has had its own well-documented struggles hiring more women).

There are no women of importance in Anahanta’s ranks, and the company exploits its few female employees in ways that make Uber look good in comparison. Still, the only female character in the book, a Friedan-spouting feminist, buys into the company completely. She’s happy to paper over Anahanta’s problems by offering some high-minded, fanciful justification for terrible behavior today — because to get ahead in tech is to join the cult.

Ultimately, it was the cultishness that got to Ms. Powell, too.

“There was a component that had been building for some time — a feeling that I was starting to, in some cases, defend the indefensible,” Ms. Powell said of her departure from Google. She pointed to the creeping extremism of YouTube, which is owned by Google — how its recommendation algorithms, tuned to maximize a business model built on engagement, can push viewers toward ever more extremist content, so you might start off watching a Trump rally and find the service suggesting white supremacist rants.

“The debate around that — what is our responsibility? — was building, and I didn’t always feel we had enough urgency,” she said. (Google has said that it has poured resources into fixing this issue.)

More than for any particular controversy, Ms. Powell said, she left Google for a reason that resonates with the primary theme of her novel — because of the industry’s dreary sameness.

Every morning, she rode a fancy shuttle bus to Google’s offices, where she was lavished with food and other perks and encouraged never to leave — and to work to exhaustion, if not burnout.

“I felt like I’d ceased to become anything else,” she said. “All I did was work all the time and talk about tech.” She concluded that a job that asked her to jump from crisis to crisis, that did not admit time or perspective to consider many ideas that were outside its small world, was not the best use of her time.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/02/technology/silicon-valleys-keystone-problem-a-monoculture-of-thought.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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