Making Tools to Fix Their Own Problems

Catherine Bracy on the tech sector’s obliviousness to genuine social causes and crises:

The well-documented lack of diversity in the Valley would be comical if it wasn’t so harmful. It feels like, and often is, a bunch of Stanford guys making tools to fix their own problems. . . Barely any of them start from an entrenched social problem and work backwards from there. Very few of them are really fundamentally improving society. . . They really don’t care that much about making the world a better place, mostly because they feel like they don’t have to live in it.

This isolation has also deluded them into thinking that they are in fact making the world a better place, simply by building their products and platforms. The Silicon Valley rich are famously stingy philanthropists and a defense I’ve heard more than once is that the tools they spend their time building are inherently good. “Why donate money when people can just download my app and instantly have a better life?”

This feels to me like it stems from the same phenomenon that is responsible for the tech press’s bizarre unwillingness to face up to the human tragedy that was unfolding at Foxconn and its ilk until forced to. And when one of the prime messengers of this bad news turned out to have fudged his credentials a bit, they disgorged a torrent of bile at him, obviously under the mistaken impression that we were all off the hook to enjoy their devices guiltlessly once again — just because Mike Daisey unfortunately tried to have his story pass as pure-as-snow journalism.

The tech media that I follow so closely is indeed woefully sheltered. I think most of it is quite well-intentioned socially, but Bracy is dead on that its sense of priorities is distorted. It needn’t be, considering its ability and propensity to, well, search.

1 thought on “Making Tools to Fix Their Own Problems”

  1. The toadies in the tech media are no different than the toadies in other media.
    The corporate media played cheerleaders to the Iraq invasion, refusing to ask any questions, agreeing to be “embedded” (read: voluntarily censored), and lobbed softball questions at Bush for eight years. And then they had the gall to say, “Nobody knew there were no WMDs!”, ignoring Hans Blix who said from the beginning that there weren’t any.
    Sports reporters know and keep quiet about athletes’ dirty secrets. It took only a day for in-depth reports to appear on Tiger Woods’ sexual escapades with prostitutes and porn stars. How could they know that much that quickly unless they always knew and kept their mouths shut? If they had said it, the PGA would have shut them out, and other golfers would have refused to talk to them.
    For comparison, think back to 1999. Baseball reporter Jim Gray asked Pete Rose about gambling on baseball. After that interview, one player said on camera that he would not talk to Gray, and claimed others felt the same way. Gray was blackballed for asking legitimate questions. And NBC had to later defend Gray’s interview.
    That is what goes on with the toadies in the tech media. Writers are afraid of digging up and publishing any scoops, even things known to be true (e.g. Apple has silenced leaked pictures and hand-on pre-reviews with threats of blacklisting). There are many rumoured and proven instances of computer magazines “editing” or not publishing bad reviews under threat of companies pulling their advertisements.
    People won’t report a full story because they’re more concerned about having access to big names than they are about telling the truth, because they’re worried about their “career”, not about doing their job. They’re stenographers, not journalists.


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