Pistes de lecture – Les cauchemars de la Silicon Valley

De mon humble point de vue sur le monde, la Silicon Valley fut longtemps une sorte d’extension du rêve américain. A dream within a dream, musique merveilleuse de Inception.

Je ne crois plus depuis bien longtemps au rêve américain. J’observe avec regret grandir une sorte de cauchemar américain.

Et ces dernières années, je vois la Silicon Valley devenir un cauchemar dans le cauchemar. Dream is collapsing, toujours Inception.

Il y a des aspects que j’ai déjà essayé de développer dans ce blog — les fantasmes de Big Data, ou l’idéologie de la transparence totale façon The Circle.

Il y a différents aspects que j’aimerai prendre le temps de développer : le cynisme, l’indifférence au reste du monde, l’indifférence aux conséquences humaines et sociales de la technologie, la tentation de la complexité, l’arrogance, la puérilité, la superficialité, l’aveuglement, l’hubris, la cruauté …

Pour ce soir, juste quelques pistes de lecture.

* * *

Jim Edwards, dans Business Insider, le 15 décembre 2013 :

Former AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman apologized last week for a series of posts on Facebook in which he said that homeless « trash » had no place in the « heart of our city, » San Francisco. He wrote:

The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay.

It’s ugly, class-war stuff. But Gopman isn’t alone. There have been a rash of incidents in which tech execs appear to have interpreted their personal economic success as proof of their permanent superior status to the rest of us.

Some of them want to secede from America, or live on lawless artificial islands outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Some of them want to sue their critics.

There is a feeling outside Silicon Valley that those inside the tech business are living in a tone-deaf bubble of arrogance. Inside the bubble, everyone is subverting! — disrupting! innovating! — in a permanent revolution of creative destruction. From the outside, people see multiple billions of dollars swirling around companies that sometimes do trivial things.

As Andrew Leonard recently wrote in Salon, « it all feels like the blind, unconscious decadence of a great empire just before its final descent into madness and irrevocable decline. »

Here is the evidence that Silicon Valley is living in a bubble of its own arrogance.

  • Le reste de l’article énumère des exemples plus édifiants les uns que les autres. A lire. Ces gens ont perdu tout sens commun.

Rebecca Solnit, dans Le Monde Diplomatique, en juin 2013, sous le titre « Welcome to the (don’t be) evil empire » :

If Google represents the global menace of Silicon Valley, and Zuckerberg represents its amorality, then Oracle CEO Larry Ellison might best represent its crassness. The fifth richest man in the world, he spent hundreds of millions of dollars to win the America’s Cup yacht race a few years back. The winner gets to choose the next venue for the race and the type of boat to be used. So for this summer’s races, Ellison chose San Francisco Bay and a giant catamaran that appears to be exceptionally unstable. Last month, an Olympic-medal-winning sailor drowned when a boat he was training on capsized in San Francisco Bay, pinning him under its sail.

(…) Here’s what San Francisco is now: a front row seat on the most powerful corporations on Earth and the people who run them. So we know what you may not yet: they are not your friends and their vision is not your vision, but your data is their data, and your communications are in their hands, and they seem to be rising to become an arm of or a part-owner of the government or a law unto themselves, and no one has yet figured out what we can do about it.

  • A lire en entier, là encore. Avec d’excellentes références. Mais il ne faut pas réduire les pathologies de la Silicon Valley à la seule pathologie de la démesure d’une oligarchie.

Jon Bischke, dans TechCrunch, le 16 juillet 2011, sous le titre « A Tale Of Two Countries: The Growing Divide Between Silicon Valley And Unemployed America » :

The number of unemployed now eclipses 14 million nationwide. (…) As a Wall Street Journal article this week pointed out, if you factored in those who’ve dropped out of the labor market (and therefore aren’t counted in unemployment numbers), the situation would appear even worse.

Which bring us to an important question: Should Silicon Valley (and other tech clusters throughout the country) care? After all, as long as people in Nebraska or the Central Valley of California have enough money to buy virtual tractors to tend their crops in Farmville, should the tech community be worried about whether those same people are getting paid to do work in the real world? Is what’s best for Silicon Valley also good for America?

  • Comme disait Chirac en 1995 : « Il y a, dans ce pays, une fracture … »

Joe Nocera, dans The New York Times, le 6 janvier 2014, sous le titre « Will Digital Networks Ruin Us? » :

There are two additional components to Lanier’s thesis. The first is that the digital economy has done as much as any single thing to hollow out the middle class. (…) His great example here is Kodak and Instagram. At its height, writes Lanier « Kodak employed more than 140,000 people. » Yes, Kodak made plenty of mistakes, but look at what is replacing it: « When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. »

(…) Still his ideas about reformulating the economy — creating what he calls a « humanistic economy » — offer much food for thought. Lanier wants to create a dynamic where digital networks expand the pie rather than shrink it, and rebuild the middle class instead of destroying it.

« If Google and Facebook were smart, » he said, « they would want to enrich their own customers. » So far, he adds, Silicon Valley has made « the stupid choice » — to grow their businesses at the expense of their own customers.

Lanier’s message is that it can’t last. And it won’t.

  • On verra.

Natasha Lennard, dans Salon, le 29 novembre 2013, sous le titre « Fist-bumping while Rome burns: The seduction of Silicon Valley disruption » :

I wish I could have discussed 23andme and GoldieBlox with my Lyft drivers a week ago. Because Lyft and all its venture-capital-backed « sharing economy » brethren — Uber, AirBnB, etc. — are the avant-garde of the Silicon Valley forces currently transforming San Francisco. No one asks permission for anything. Apps are available for download on your phone long before regulators have a clue as to how to handle the relevant public safety issues — or even what those issues are. Existing players — taxi companies, hotels, regulators — are immediately dismissed as hopelessly behind the times.

And to a certain extent, resistance is futile. Urban populations accustomed to operating their lives through their smartphones will inexorably gravitate to new, more efficient — more fun — ways of doing things. Mock the millennial fist-bumps at your peril! My first ride through Lyft reminded me of the first time I shopped online or booked a plane ticket through my computer. Damn, that was easy. So convenient! I’m going to do that again.

The rise of the sharing economy and the brazen pugnacity of Silicon Valley explain both NASDAQ’s current frothiness and the class anxieties the New York Times has finally caught up to. This is a different kind of bubble. There is real money to be made in applying the new technological innovations that have been pouring out of the Valley for lo these many decades. But change — relentless creative destruction — freaks people out.

What makes the current boom different from the last one is that the last time around, the froth was mostly tied to the potential of new technology. This time around, it is a reflection of the reality of new technology. This explains both the wealth being created and the arrogance of those who are deploying new tech. They think they know better because: have you looked at a smartphone lately? It also explains both the sense of loss felt by so many as the old San Francisco melts away like a sand castle before the incoming tide, and the excitement experienced by those who — as San Franciscans have always been wont to do — thrill to embrace the new.

It is entirely possible that 10 or 20 years hence we may look back at the era when pink-moustachioed cars teemed on the streets of San Francisco as the last absurd, ridiculous gasp of the second great tech bubble before it popped. Maybe we’ll even recall this moment as the tipping point before Silicon Valley arrogance and accelerating class stratification precipitated a political reaction. We’ll understand how those convivial fist bumps masked the relentless emasculation of labor, the division of society into freelancers subletting their cars and couches and physical labor for the benefit of a smaller and smaller group of people at the top of the techno-food chain.

I don’t know. There are definitely times when I witness the baroque excesses of the Bay Area in 2013 — the artisanal rye whiskeys, the pork-belly-and-rabbit beer garden sausages, the every-day-a-new-revolutionary-app — and it all feels like the blind, unconscious decadence of a great empire just before its final descent into madness and irrevocable decline.

And then I take a breath and wonder if it is still all just getting started. And I summon my Lyft driver. And what the hell? Let’s fist-bump while Rome burns.

  • Rome n’a pas été construit en un jour. Et Rome n’a pas été détruit en un jour.

Bonne nuit.

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