Wired senior editor Bill Wasik on the public’s changing relationship with both Silicon Valley and the technology it creates and promotes:
One of the most toxic memes to waft out of the industry recently has been the idea of quasi-secession, whether it was Peter Thiel’s dream of floating hacker communities or Tim Draper’s plan to make Silicon Valley its own state or Balaji Srinivasan’s vision of an “ultimate exit” to someplace where engineers could build a world “run by technology.” But they’ve got it entirely backward. People don’t crave technology like drugs, wanting it so bad they’ll wire bitcoins to the offshore plutocracy of Libertaristan just to get it. They adopt technology when they’re seduced by the communities that grow up around it, often for love rather than money. If inventing new modes of communication or collaboration was seen as a mercenary act—as no nobler than drilling a well or devising a mortgage-backed security—then such platforms would never thrive, because their value tends to arise from a long, slow, unprofitable process of experimentation.
If anything, the public love affair with Silicon Valley is more crucial today than ever.
There’s a reason why web giants adopt slogans like “Don’t be evil” or endorse “the Hacker Way”: The entire business models of Google and Facebook are built not on a physical product or even a service but on monetizing data that users freely supply. Were either company to lose the trust and optimism of its customers, it wouldn’t just be akin to ExxonMobil failing to sell oil or Dow Chemical to sell plastic; it would be like failing to drill oil, to make plastic.
When William Gibson envisioned cyberspace as a “consensual hallucination,” he was right. Unsettle the consensus about the social web and you don’t just risk slowing its growth or depopulating it slightly. You risk ending it, as mistrust of corporate motives festers into cynicism about the entire project.