“It’s very possible for somebody to show up [in Silicon Valley]… and have had absolutely no exposure at all to politics, social issues, history. When the government shows up, it’s bad news. They go, ‘Oh , my God, government is evil, I didn’t understand how bad it was. We must fight it.’ ”
— Marc Andreessen of Mosaic and Netscape fame, now venture capitalist and board member of Facebook, Hewlett-Packard and eBay — and recently, winner of a Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, don’t you know. Andreessen is one of those quoted in “Change the World,” a lengthy New Yorker article (purchase required) about Silicon Valley and its mentality.
Among other things, the article examines the tech industry’s bad rap: In a culture of entrepreneurship, some see executives and workers as self-absorbed, money-hungry and devoid of any sense of civic duty. San Franciscans, for example, have complained of gentrification and their city’s well-being in light of the presence of Twitter and other tech companies.
George Packer’s New Yorker article also mentions the economic inequality in Silicon Valley, land of billionaires and millionaires, pointing to a 22 percent rise in homelessness in the past couple of years. In a March article by the Merc’s Pat May about the Bay Area’s minimum-wage workers, he wrote that food-stamp participation here is at a 10-year high.
Does the tech industry care about any of that? The New Yorker article also points to tech’s growing involvement in politics, the most recent example being FWD.us, the political action committee led by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It has gotten off to a rough start: Its tactics have been heavily criticized, but the article notes that it was born partly out of Zuckerberg’s concern over immigration reform after coming into contact with poor middle-school students in an entrepreneurship class he was teaching once a week. Besides the industry’s advocating for more H-1B visas, Zuckerberg has talked about a “huge moral component” surrounding immigration reform. VC Ron Conway, who also has his critics, has been involved in San Francisco and national politics as well. Among his causes is gun control.
The questioning of tech’s motives and effect on the overall good is sure to continue, but the industry has matured enough to know it is necessary to work with government. Ben Horowitz, the other half of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, is also quoted in the New Yorker article, talking about the U.S. government’s security demands about the Netscape browser long ago: “Maybe they didn’t totally understand the implications of everything, but we didn’t understand their job, either.”
Photo of Marc Andreessen from Bloomberg News archives