The U.S. technology industry, personalized as Silicon Valley, is under attack. And it’s not just Steve Bannon ranting about “lords of technology” who steal Americans’ jobs, wealth and opportunity.
The reasons for the attacks, some perceived and some real, aren’t new. But they have reached a scale that Bay Area industry cannot ignore. A few examples:
• The New York Times Week in Review section Oct. 14 featured a scathing article headlined “Silicon Valley is not your friend.” It argued that tech’s Big Five companies, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft, have concentrated wealth and power to a degree that threatens our democracy.
• The Atlantic magazine has published several articles this year faulting tech, including one saying, “It’s getting harder to believe in Silicon Valley.”
• Wired magazine, noting “the backlash growing toward the tech industry’s overwhelming power and wealth,” posted the story “New York: The pious alternative to evil Silicon Valley.” A photo accompanying the story shows a New York City billboard with the message, “I’m frustrated as #%&! in Silicon Valley.”
A barrage of media attention to its treatment of women, reliance on H1B visas and disrespect of Americans’ privacy is creating an image that threatens to overwhelm the positive impact tech has on the U.S. economy.
It was tech that yanked the nation out of its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. It has led in job creation for the past eight years — a spectacular run that, at least economically, made America great again.
Criticisms of the industry’s attitudes toward privacy and women ring true. The industry itself has to fix them. But Silicon Valley also needs to stand against the external forces that threaten its future.
Its success rests in the thousands of innovative startups armed and ready to capitalize on new opportunities — many of them driven by immigrants. Imagine if Tesla’s Elon Musk had not been able to come to Silicon Valley to get a Ph.D. at Stanford in applied physics and material science? Imagine if Google’s Sergey Brin had not taken the same path and teamed with Larry Page on a research project at Stanford to create a new type of search engine?
The main challenges to the American economy are not tech’s power but government anti-immigration legislation, anti-science policies and other retro trends that may well keep the next wave of entrepreneurs from coming to the Bay Area to start their companies. Driving the core of the industry overseas will make America weak again.
It’s hard for “Silicon Valley” to fight back against national attacks. Tech is by nature an individualized, entrepreneurial culture. But this can be done. Work hard to fix the real problems drawing attention — and work harder at telling the story of why the industry born here is now fundamental to our national economy, and under threat.
AN EDITORIAL FROM THE SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS