Ted Rall: On Our Growing Contempt for Big Tech



aNewDomain.net – Just as an addict loves her drugs but hates the dealers that sell them to her, so goes America’s ongoing contempt for Silicon Valley. Most of us love tech but hate the tech companies. And now that distaste is spreading to include tech workers. Why? Here’s commentary from our Ted Rall …

San Francisco. That’s where locals know tech best. And here is where you see 30-year-old worker bees taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

You remember how Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the Banksters. Well, now San Francisco bus stops are ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech.

Oversized SUV-ish transit buses responsible for ferrying Google staffers up and down the peninsula are pissing people off. Why? They’re clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is funding-starved.

So protesters are blocking private tech company buses. The objection is to the soaring rents deep-pocketed tech workers so easily pay. A bus window got smashed in one incident so far. And, across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him accountable for his dual role as a tech dystopian. The guy runs both Google’s creepy robot car project and … he’s a real estate developer, too.

Save for a window and a few Google tardiness issues, no one’s been harmed.

Days of Rage this ain’t.

Yet, despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits. They fear the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-spirulina-smoothies technorati.

In Slate, the usually-steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed about the matter. He said such street actions as slashing bus tires were “bullshit”  and opined that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.”

Or doesn’t operate, by his own account.

Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to The Wall Street Journal that compared societal dislike of the one-percenters to Nazi attacks on Jews:

This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking … Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930 … Is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

Perkins is old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.

Responding to Perkins, David Streitfeld in The New York Times responded with:

… the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that the tech sector enjoyed a more-positive American view than any other industry.

I don’t think it’s going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our tech biz contempt? All our economic eggs are in their one basket.

Consider. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse  – or the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions, for that matter — lies squarely with the tech sector. And tech companies don’t care. They’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees. Twitter has 2000. Instagram has 13.

Please. The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Mark Zuckerberg never can grab enough loot for himself, so Facebook does without the basics — like customer service reps. Facebook doesn’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us or our neighbors. Or bother to answer the phone.

Yet we all feel vested in tech.

The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures are more impersonal.

Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them and  interacting with them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support on the Big Tech infrastructure.

Every time we pick up our Apple iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it — and the $300 we laid out for its once-cool, now-lame, two-year-old precursor. Maybe the iPhone’s cut-rate screen is cracked. It all just reminds us of the historic, extravagant profits pocketed by tech makers.

We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by tech CEOs, including the incompetent ones.

Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows.

Foxconn now requires new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if the workers kill themselves. Charming.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as do wildly-profitable tech outfits like MicrosoftAdobe and Apple. Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. And that’s what set the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract. That means giving back.

Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars.

And such nineteenth century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of techno-libertarianism, pure greed or just obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective.

And Steve Jobs kept almost every cent.

Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. And Google? It doles out roughly 0.02 percent of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap. There’s just skittish, says E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. He says:

A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy … that money still feels a little too tenuous … (it) still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever. The underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s one percent to start stepping up.

For aNewDomain.net, I’m Ted Rall.

Based in New York, Ted Rall is a nationally-syndicated columnist, editorial cartoonist and war correspondent who specializes in Afghanistan and Central Asia. The author of 17 books, most-recently published The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt, Rall is twice the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and is a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Follow him @TedRall, check out his Facebook fan page and definitely follow his Google+

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  • David m

    Very well expressed except Zuckerberg gave almost a billion$ in Philatrophy commitments…

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