Silicon Valley is defined by contradiction: It’s at once a massive economic engine, a wellspring of popular technology that promises to unite the world — and a powerful driver of discord and inequality. Last spring, two books that take very different approaches to address this paradox were published within weeks of one another.
In Abolish Silicon Valley, startup founder Wendy Liu excoriated the tech industry’s relentless drive toward profit. Her book argues that nothing short of a total rethinking of how innovation is undertaken — and an overhaul of capitalism itself — can set things right in the era of Facebook disinformation, labor abuses at Amazon, and exploitation at gig companies like Uber. Meanwhile, Always Day One, by former BuzzFeed News senior tech reporter Alex Kantrowitz championed the tech industry’s culture of innovation — the book’s title derives from Amazon’s slogan that urges employees to treat each day as if it were the company’s first. Kantrowitz argues we need to give other companies the tools to compete with the giants and reimagine how we approach work in order to pave the way toward a better future.
Given that the Valley’s vices and virtues have never seemed more tightly coiled together, it felt like a prime moment to put these two perspectives into conversation. OneZero asked Liu and Kantrowitz to participate in a friendly debate via email, to be published on our site. Then the pandemic hit, and the world was out the window.
Fast forward just a couple of months and Silicon Valley is once again facing major challenges stirred up by the pandemic and the uprisings against anti-Black racism. Companies like Coca-Cola have taken up social media ad boycotts in response to hate speech and misinformation, Reddit is dissolving major channels like The_Donald, communities are challenging the tech industry’s ties to policing, and the list goes on.
At this inflection point, we present their conversation, which took place throughout April and May, as the virus kept…