Throughout most of Silicon Valley’s history, its executives have displayed a libertarian instinct to stay as far from politics and government as possible. But the imperative to change the world has recently led some Silicon Valley leaders to imagine that the values and concepts behind their success can be uploaded to the public sphere.
Packer has written elsewhere that technological romanticism does not divide an increasingly un-equal America, it is one of the few things that still unites us. I’d even take it a step further and suggest that it may be closest thing we have to a 21st Century American Dream. His most recent critique of technological romanticism - in the context of politics, in this week’s New Yorker - may turn a blind eye to the most promising social innovations to come out of Silicon Valley, but just like Malcolm Gladwell’s critique of slacktivism in the same magazine a few years ago, it is a masterful articulation of an important perspective that those of us who care about helping technology succeed in service of the greater good must help evangelize within the tech bubble.
While Packer articulated a lot of what I’ve been observing about the subject since diving back into this world just over a year ago, I’m surprised he made no mention of the SOPA/PIPA fight of late 2011/early 2012, which I would consider the industry’s first foray into traditional politics. It was, of course, a completely self-serving, cause but it was important because it represented 1) the first major wake-up call to those libertarian-utopian-minded tech execs that pretending Government doesn’t exist can have huge consequences, and 2) the possibility that a powerful Internet Constituency might emerge. Of course, such a constituency has not yet materialized or publicly activated around any other single issue, and this is as important for contextualizing the launch and challenges of FWD.us as anything else Packer explores in the piece.
Don’t you think?
Government is finally making overtures at a time in American history where any legislation regarding technological advances has been more noticeable in its absence.
The biggest challenge coming will be to define what the scope of the law should even BE when it comes to new telecommunications. In Crypto, Stephen Levy wrote about grassroots hackers putting privacy in the hands of individuals. It was an accepted solution to the privacy problem (in the absolute most public of forums) at the time— policing by large private entities, with almost nonexistent government oversight.
Now, though, when child pornography rings abound and cyberbullying is a new parenting issue, the public-forum at large is realizing that privacy is just one facet of a social contract.
Will a Supreme Court that upheld Citizen’s United put freedom of expression first for the masses?
Are there legitimate users of sites like Megaupload, seized by the DoJ, who deserve compensation for possible destruction of their online backups? (Megaupload has since rebranded itself— it’s encryption-heavy and has https.)
Is the unintended use of Tor as a drug-trafficking tool the responsibility of the engineers that coded the browser in the first place?
The thing I’m most uncomfortable grappling with, and about which no one seems to be writing— if the UN alleges access to the internet is a human right, who will be charged with providing it? I believe in America, at least, a “public option” when it comes to ISPs would be a no-go.
I just worry about the valuable minds the long-longed-for, techno-utopian “Singularity” could leave behind.
Wired recently ran a commendable piece of investigative journalism (here: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/05/google-pharma-whitaker-sting/all/) that hints at the uncomfortable truth: while content generators and advertisers value the consumer, the law is not their first priority.
The only thing I can know for sure? ….we’re going to need more technocrats.