noahpinion

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Silicon Valley Can Solve the Big Problems

I am annoyed when writers accuse Silicon Valley (by which they mean the entire tech industry) of not solving big problems. Presumably, these tech critics want venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to take us into space, solve the global energy crunch or invent new labor-saving devices. And presumably they aren’t satisfied that SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity, and the Google Self-Driving Car project, among others, are working on all these things as we speak…

What critics of Silicon Valley’s vision fail to realize, though, is that the really big problems aren’t the hard ones or the spectacular ones. The really big problems are things that affect the quality of human life…

The problems of this higher rung of Maslow’s ladder are exactly the ones that tech companies like Facebook and Match.com have begun to crack. Consider the impact of dating sites on the lives of divorced people. For a young person, dating sites - OKCupid or Tinder - are a marginal improvement over the old singles scene of parties, bars and friends-of-friends. But for divorced middle-aged people, who are often socially isolated and occupied with work, meeting people is a much more daunting task. For these people, dating sites are a godsend. If you don’;t believe me, just ask your friends from Korea or China about their divorced parents. In those countries, online dating is still heavily stigmatized and generally feared - and the outcome is a lifetime of extreme loneliness for legions of older people…

I believe that the advent of social technology is a huge step toward solving the really big, really tough problems of humanity. The ability to connect with old friends and meet romantic partners late in life isn’t as spectacular as the ability to fly to Mars, but if you think about it, Mars is just a ball of rock and ice. Here on Earth, there are much vaster worlds to explore: the worlds in other people’s minds.

- Noah Smith