Why does tech have so many political problems?

These are originally derived from written notes, a basis for comments by somebody else, from a closed session on tech.  I have added my own edits:

  1. Most tech leaders aren’t especially personable. Instead, they’re quirky introverts. Or worse.
  2. Most tech leaders don’t care much about the usual policy issues. They care about AI, self-driving cars, and space travel, none of which translate into positive political influence.
  3. Tech leaders are idealistic and don’t intuitively understand the grubby workings of WDC.
  4. People who could be “managers” in tech policy areas (for instance, they understand tech, are good at coalition building, etc.) will probably be pulled into a more lucrative area of tech. Therefore ther is an acute talent shortage in tech policy areas.
  5. The Robespierrean social justice terror blowing through Silicon Valley occupies most of tech leaders’ “political” mental energy. It is hard to find time to focus on more concrete policy issues.
  6. Of the policy issues that people in tech do care about—climate, gay/trans rights, abortion, Trump—they’re misaligned with Republican Party, to say the least. This same Republican party currently rules.
  7. While accusations of deliberate bias against Republicans are overstated, the tech rank-and-file is quite anti-Republican, and increasingly so. This limits the political degrees of freedom of tech leaders. (See the responses to Elon Musk’s Republican donation.)
  8. Several of the big tech companies are de facto monopolies or semi-monopolies. They must spend a lot of their political capital denying this or otherwise minimizing its import.
  9. The media increasingly hates tech. (In part because tech is such a threat, in part because of a deeper C.P. Snow-style cultural mismatch.)
  10. Not only does tech hate Trump… but Trump hates tech.
  11. By nature, tech leaders are disagreeable iconoclasts (with individualistic and believe it or not sometimes megalomaniacal tendencies). That makes them bad at uniting as a coalition.
  12. Major tech companies have meaningful presences in just a few states, which undermines their political influence. Of states where they have a presence — CA, WA, MA, NY — Democrats usually take them for granted, Republicans write them off.  Might Austin, TX someday help here?
  13. US tech companies are increasingly unpopular among governments around the world. For instance, Facebook/WhatsApp struggles in India. Or Google and the EU. Or Visa and Russia. This distracts the companies from focusing on US and that makes them more isolated.
  14. The issues that are challenging for tech companies aren’t arcane questions directly in and of the tech industry (such as copyright mechanics for the music industry or procurement rules for defense). They’re broader and they also encounter very large coalitions coming from other directions: immigration laws, free speech issues on platforms, data privacy questions, and worker classification on marketplaces.
  15. Blockchain may well make the world “crazier” in the next five years. So tech will be seen as driving even more disruption.
  16. The industry is so successful that it’s not very popular among the rest of U.S. companies and it lacks allies. (90%+ of S&P 500 market cap appreciation this year has been driven by tech.) Many other parts of corporate America see tech as a major threat.
  17. Maybe it is hard to find prominent examples of the great good that big tech is doing. Instagram TV. iPhone X. Amazon Echo Dot. Microsoft Surface Pro. Are you impressed? Are these companies golden geese or have they simply appropriated all the gold?


I work in tech in Silicon Valley and I've tried to get various people to actually show up and lobby for more housing at City Council meetings up and down the Peninsula.

Tech has a very strong "does it scale" ethos - finding a solution you can write once and use for 100 different cities, 100,000 different users, etc.

Politics is the exact opposite: the strength of a political signal is the inverse of how well it scales. Getting fifty people to show up to a City Council meeting at San Mateo City Hall and ask for more housing means a lot *precisely* because it's not easy to do.

The instinct of everyone in tech is to solve political problems with technology. That's uneffective.

Tech workers are used to ground-breaking digital solutions that shift behavior on a massive scale. So they think political solutions will operate the same way.

But this confuses process and purpose. The process is the tech and that can certainly scale dramatically. But the purpose is the end goal of the process and, here, our desires and needs are increasingly LESS scalable. Like Chris Anderson wrote in the Long Tail, now that we’ve moved past common needs like food and shelter, it’s clear that people want an incredibly diverse range of things. Shoehorning people into national programs like Obamacare or common core may sound like a rational idea to someone who helped put an iPhone in all of our pockets, but we’re not all using the iPhone to have the same conversation.

+1 to both of you. Tech workers tend to think everything is a technology problem, but in reality everything is a people problem. Several of Tyler's points touch on this.

'but in reality everything is a people problem.'

Stable electrical grid? Not really a people problem.

Clean water at the turn of a tap? Not really a people problem.

A functional globe spanning air transport industry? Not really a people problem.

Of course, to the extent one wants to be a complete reductionist, everything concerning people can be reduced to being about people.

Strangely, though, the above tech systems are not based on people, but instead on various physical properties independent of people.

Of course, this is again probably using another meaning of the word 'tech.'

Well, duh. If you can't deal with a non-literal statement then please substitute "Tech people often try to solve people problems with technology".

'"Tech people often try to solve people problems with technology".'

But that has been true of engineers for centuries - who are these 'tech people?' Something different than literal engineers?

And is Intel a place full of these 'tech people,' because over the decades of its existence, Intel seems to be a place where engineers, broadly defined, try to solve tech problems using technology. Or at least, that is the way it appeared in the past.

Basically, this apparent new definition of 'tech' is meant to cover the bankruptcy of what American tech companies (remember GE or IBM?) are apparently no longer capable of producing.

Much like 'keyboarding' has become an apparent skill that needs to be developed in at least one VA school system in intermediate school. It took a couple of minutes talking with a person involved in this effort to figure out that 'keyboarding' would have been called 'typing' in the 1970s. Or 1980s. or 1990s.

Perhaps we should develop a special version of Google translate that translates these conversations to use words only according to your preferred definitions? Then we would all get along great and be able to have an intelligent conversation.

That is an example of misclassifying a people problem as a technology problem.

"But that has been true of engineers for centuries - who are these 'tech people?' Something different than literal engineers?"

Maybe #1 on this list should be 'tech people' are engineers.

Then a lot of the rest of it becomes obvious.

Except Bill Gates or Steven Jobs were not engineers. Neither is Ellison (who did do some programming work). Nor is Thiel. Nor Zuckerberg (who at least was an actual programmer in his youth). The linked points seem to be referring to tech leaders, mainly.

'Then a lot of the rest of it becomes obvious.'

Only if you accept the premise that someone like Bill Gates or Peter Thiel is an engineer. Of course there are a number of (generally software) engineers in Silicon Valley. And one can argue about someone like Tim Cook, with his industrial engineering B.S. and MBA all day long.

While many might object, engineering is a state of mind. Also if you are creating and rapidly expanding a firm based upon a technical process you have spent most of your career dealing with engineering problems and the problems of dealing with engineers.

"Stable electrical grid? Not really a people problem."

When Jerry Brown is demanding that the power be generated from "renewables" like wind and solar, he's turning a technical problem INTO a "people problem". Wind is terribly inefficient, expensive, and unreliable. Solar is only viable when enormous government subsidies are provided, Both depend on expensive scarce minerals and are difficult to recycle or reuse.

In other words, political distortions often turn technical problems into people problems.

All those things you describe are people issues. There are technical things, technologies that are implemented, but nothing keeps running without lots of people doing day to day maintenance.

You know what else doesn't keep running without day to day maintenance? Human babies.

As noted, if one wishes to be reductionist enough. everything can be reduced to being about people.

Comments like yours are the reason they have to keep disabling comments

He's trolling. Stop indulging him.

I'm not being reductionist. Nor ignoring the benefits of technology. I happen to work on this type of stuff, and technology simply makes them more complex requiring higher levels of training and skill to keep them running.

Very little of the real world fits into tidy little sequences that can be translated into machine language.

'technology simply makes them more complex requiring higher levels of training and skill to keep them running'

Providing clean water to a major population center has been solved several times over the last several thousand years. One can argue about training and skill, of course, but both Minoans and Romans seen to have been capable of it.

'Very little of the real world fits into tidy little sequences that can be translated into machine language.'

And some Roman aqueducts are still in use. Obviously, people built and maintained such structures to solve a human problem - the need for clean water - but to say that the delivery of clean water is in reality a people problem is only true in the broadest sense, if you wish to avoid reductionism as a term.

Most of these problems are common for other industries and institutions led by "elites." The worst elites are those who won the lottery (huge financial reward based on chance) or a talent show (huge financial/social power reward based on skill as an entertainer). Putting power into the hands of lottery winners and talented singers...those elites are going to have political problems with other elites who obtained power through democratic means. Tech needs an Electoral College.

The second variety of talent show elites (“huge social power reward based on skill as an entertainer”) and democratically elected elites are literally the same thing.

Few politicians are entertaining. They are people who know how to work a room, which is a different skill.

As different as singing is from dancing. The talent for winning elections democratically makes one no more suited to running a county than the talent for making excellent reality television.

Very true and increasingly problematic. At the founding of our democracy and for a long time after, there was far less difference between the talents. Nowadays, the type of person who can win a major election has no bearing on whether they are the type who can do the job well.

This is not a new idea and was bruited about more than 50 years ago. Then John Kennedy was succeeded by three of the more untelegenic figures you could imagine.

Look at who runs Congress. There isn't one of them who has any entertainment value. They're not singers or dancers unless you fancy selling cars and real estate are branches of the entertainment industry. They're adept at building relationships and spotting angles to work.

Fair points but Congress critters do not have to win national elections. The skill and charisma and organization needed to do that has very little to do with being a good chief executive. And it's not just looks. Trump is hardly a dreamboat, but he does have telegenic magnetism and charisma that has nothing to do with the job.

It really started with Reagan. The more charismatic candidate has won every presidential election even farther back, to FDR probably but surely starting with JFK. Surely you think Obama was a better election winner than he was a president, as well as the man you call 'Bilge' Clinton.

Tech people tend to be rational, and tech culture is meritocratic. That doesn't mix well with political culture. Tech doesn't have problems dealing with politics; the political class creates problems when they stick their nose into tech.

“Tech doesn't have problems dealing with politics; the political class creates problems when they stick their nose into tech.”

No. Sanders raked in far more money from rank and file SV workers than any other candidate. Sanders wants to stick the government’s nose into every industry.

Ergo, tech workers want political interference. They crave it.


Maybe Sanders appealed to tech workers because his "solutions" are simplistic big-bang ideas, like "Medicare for all" or "Soak the rich." The vision of Obamacare involved similar simplistic solutions that weren't fully worked out, such as "shopping for care."

Wouldn't this be the opposite? Tech workers may be able to see that he is your typical "Idea Guy" that they often have had contact and they actually know that executing and solving even apparent trivial problems are not as easy as it is thought.

The moderator says:

Of the policy issues that people in tech do care about—climate, gay/trans rights, abortion, Trump—they’re misaligned with Republican Party, to say the least. This same Republican party currently rules.
While accusations of deliberate bias against Republicans are overstated, the tech rank-and-file is quite anti-Republican, and increasingly so. This limits the political degrees of freedom of tech leaders. (See the responses to Elon Musk’s Republican donation.)

Let's posit for a moment the moderator has identified what motivates tech employees. The stances on his list are not a function of 'rationality'. They are delineators of in-groups and out-groups in a strange and insular culture. Why people operating something akin to a common carrier want to take sides in the exchange of brickbats in this country is the real puzzle.

" Tech people tend to be rational, and tech culture is meritocratic". [SNIP}

'Marisa Mayer, come on down!'


Thank God for meritocracy!

The only thing I am sure about is that Apple is grossly overvalued. In 5 years Samsung and Huawei will be worth more than it.

Five years is a long time. Anything can happen. However, I think you are underestimating the power of brand.

You are probably like me: you look at the functionality of an iPhone and the functionality of Android competitors and think it is crazy to pay a premium for the Apple product. However, plenty of people pay huge premiums just for a brand name all the time--look at what is spent on clothes and cars that are functionally no better than cheap alternatives.

I actually think Samsung is in more danger of being toast in five years. Most Apple users are Apple devotees, but most Samsung users are Android devotees. They are vulnerable to being replaced by alternatives (like Huawei).

It is more than brand. Apple products hit the base cases flawlessly. Android, not so much. This flows from the incentives within both companies.

How can we be sure that apple will be able to mark-up their products to this degree forever? I think that eventually they will have to lower the mark-up and hence their market value will collapse to a normal level for a company of their size like 200-250 billion.

"The only thing I am sure about is that Apple is grossly overvalued. In 5 years.."

Why is your prediction true today but wasn't true 5 years ago?

Apple has less than 15% of smartphone market share, less than 10% of pc market share (even Chromebooks outsell macs now). The question isn't if apple will be around in 5 years, of course they will; like Lamborghini, as an extreme luxury brand for a few elites who don't actually understand the product their buying. The question is, why do they suck up so much oxygen in tech journalism when virtually no one actually uses their products.

And yet, at tech conferences, I see a hell of a lot of Macbooks and iPhones.

There is one reason for that. It runs Unix under the hood and there is a Unix shell. For the last decade it has been the only laptop that comes out the shelf with that function.

'For the last decade it has been the only laptop that comes out the shelf with that function'

That is not even close to true, you know. Maybe this link will help - https://www.cyberciti.biz/hardware/laptop-computers-with-linux-installed-or-preloaded/

Admittedly, most of the enterprises listed are resellers. However, this company isn't in that category - 'Dell sells a high-end Redhat Enterprise Linux and Ubuntu Linux-based laptop for business use, developers and sysadmins. If you are a developer and tend to travel a lot, give it a try to “XPS 13 Developer Edition” powered by Ubuntu Linux. Dell also offers precision workstations class laptop with RHEL or Ubuntu operating system. Precision workstations are designed for CG professionals, or as small-scale business servers.'

And Lenovo Thinkpads are the sort of thing that any normal Linux user consider to be a solid choice, even if they need to install their own preferred version.

The sadder thing is that many macbooks are running windows. But yes, if you see one you know they are bad at development which is probably why they are at the conference instead of doing real work.

General Motors market cap is 54 billion and they are a company of about the same size as Apple, producing about 10 million cars to Apple's sales of 160 million Iphones plus computers. In 10 years I expect both companies market cap to be similar.

'Apple has less than 15% of smartphone market share'

And this article points out how a smart phone manufacturer that is essentially not selling its products in the U.S. is larger than Apple - 'Chinese smartphone maker Huawei has overtaken Apple to become the world’s second-largest smartphone manufacturer, according to three new market research reports published Tuesday evening.

Market intelligence firms IDC, IHS Markit and Canalys all reported that Huawei shipped more phones than Apple in the past quarter. IDC and IHS Markit reported the firm had shipped 54.2 million phones; Canalys estimated it was 54 million.

Huawei has almost no market share in the United States because of government accusations that it is tied to the Chinese government.' https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2018/08/01/huawei-shipped-more-phones-than-apple-last-quarter/?utm_term=.f921c52bf6a7

'The question is, why do they suck up so much oxygen in tech journalism when virtually no one actually uses their products.'

American tech journalism - a place like Heise does not care all that much about Apple, though of course Apple has been a major innovator for a long time.

I'm not a fan of Apple, but 10-15% is far bigger market share than Lamborghini, and their profit share is huge, since they sell products at much higher margin than their competitors .

Plus, one can't ignore their role as an innovator. They basically invented the modern smartphone and tablet*, and they remain innovators in the sector.

*Just to head off the rebuttals--yes I know there were predecessors to both, but they developed the successful formula that created the market for each.

Apple cares much more about profit than market share; how much of the profit in the smartphone industry belongs to Apple? Hint: the vast majority...Same thing for computers that retail for more than $1000.

Most of the computers that retail in that range are servers and Apple has none of that market share. But even among workstations and business class laptops Apple has so little market share I don't think they can claim much profit.

Huawei imported phones into the US, but they were of such poor quality I don't think they could sell anything here unless carriers really stuffed the channel. I would put them way behind LG, Motorola, HTC, and basically everyone else in terms of potential.

Dan Lavatan-Jeltz said: “Huawei imported phones into the US, but they were of such poor quality I don't think they could sell anything here unless carriers really stuffed the channel.”

OK. When were Huawei phones of poor quality?

Android Authority editors’ monthly articles are relentless and exacting when making phone comparisons and they often sing the praises of Huawei phones.


I’ve owned LG and Samsung smartphones and now own Huawei Honor 8. I purchased it last year for 40% of the price I would have had to pay for the new Samsung model. The phone is fast, intuitive, has an excellent camera and has the features 99% of the features of an Apple or Samsung phone.

@Nicholas Conrad: "when virtually no one actually uses their products."

So let me see if I have this right, a $1 trillion with a T market cap company, with $53 billion with a B in revenue just in the 3rd QUARTER, has no one using their products? This must be the new math.

18. With the tyranny of email, social media addiction, etc., tech has actually worsened up our lives

Disagree. If e-mail is ‘ruining’ companies you are free to start your own and show us all how smart you are.

In an age where Bumble gets the "feminist" label certainly we have surpassed the human ability to analyze to sustain a moral economy.

- Tech creates more change than any other industry. Change challenges the political order.
- Tech is a strong center of power, not only for its money but for its capabilities. Power will cause (justified, IMO) political interest.

I think this is a good point.

Tyler's list has a number of good points, too, but it suffers somewhat from the assumption that tech's problems are mainly tech's fault. But actually, regardless of these points, political problems were inevitable simply because of its size, power, and disruption.

Besides the threat to the political order, there is also the basic point that people hate/fear change--and politicians will always exploit that.

- The tech industry is maturing. The smartphone and Facebook are over a decade old and the days of hyper-growth are gone. Tech, as an industry, is much less able to buy political support than it used to be. On the other hand, it isn't as politically non-threatening as a mature industry would be. By contrast, the auto industry and the film industry are familiar lobbies with predictable concerns that politicians know how to work with.

So the “tech industry” is just smartphones and social networks? Film and auto were both state of the art tech when they began, and are merging with the modern “tech industry” as we speak (Netflix, Tesla). If we define tech as applied science (i.e. correctly, rather than just correlating to the current fads), then it becomes kind of obvious why tech has so many political problems... tech vs government is at least an improvement over science vs church, if only be degrees (yes, execution pun intended).

Being a bit of a contrarian, I need to question the premisse:

Does the term tech mean rich from avertissement (like Google, Facebook and Twitter) or does it mean successful improving the physical technology (Gigaflops, pixel density, bandwidth like Intel, Broadcom, Cisco and Apple).

I would think the distinction matters, as the former is naturally more political, as not actually delivering an irreplaceable superior product, they are more dependent on goodwill. # 17 seems to point towards the latter, but when San Francisco protests the private shuttles, they are unlikely to distinguish between Google (advertisement) and Intel (technology).

Do you remember what it was like to try to find information on the internet before Google? Their core technology was a huge breakthrough, and they have been major innovators in maps, webmail, and other areas.

While I'm more ambivalent about Facebook and Twitter, clearly they are providing services that huge numbers of people find valuable, as well.

I would restate #17 as: the major innovations of the sector have become so integrated into our lives that we take them for granted and only notice the risks and threats from technology.

Do you know what its like trying to find a website on the internet currently?

A "search engine" where you type in any company name will give a huge 1/3 to 1/2 page of "sponsored results" that cost the company a dollar to pay, or you can scroll down and click the search results.

No offense, but google is only so-so now. It gets a network effect huge profitability bonus because everyone must pay the google tax.

(Remember when ads were off to the side?)


Go make your own. Should be easy since it adds so little value.

Wait companies are infallible? No one can complain about any of them unless they start up a competitor?

Again, do you remember pre-Google technology? Searching the internet in the early/mid 90s involved going through page after page of results, sometimes taking hours to find the information one wanted.

Search Google and I almost always get what I want immediately, on the first page. The existence of ads is nothing compared to the pain of the old way. The biggest problem is not ads but attempts to game search rankings on certain queries. However, Google seems to be largely winning this.

I'm not a complete fan of their direction in recent years. The way they try to keep you captive in their site and regurgitate information, rather than linking to external sites, is getting annoying. Also, I think they have lost their edge in web apps. Gmail and maps were huge innovations, but they have stagnated in recent years, even though I think there is potential to do a lot more.

Still I stand by my statement about the benefit of Google search.

'Do you remember what it was like to try to find information on the internet before Google?'

Yes - AltaVista allowed for targetted searching in a way that Google now seems to actively discourage. Admittedly, AltaVista's translation services were a joke.

'Their core technology was a huge breakthrough'

Using the Internet itself to organize search results was brilliant - I'm not sure that this brilliant programming insight could be a 'core technology' (this is related to the ongoing discussion of whether a software idea, and even its implementation, can be called 'technology' in any meaningful sense - Google's expertise in creating and integrating high performance technology related to delivering data globally is a clear example of technology mastery.)

And from another comment of your above - 'rather than linking to external sites' - that is precisely why the EU keeps punishing them for abusing their position.

Do I remember internet before Google? There were other search engines, now mostly defunkt. Google did enter into a virtuous cycle, more advertisement money improved the product, which again brought more advertisement money.

My point was the broad brush on defining "tech" might make the debate less productive. I am personally dismayed about the lack of micro payments for contents. I am happy to pay for turning advertisement off in apps, however, in interacting with content providers online, their asking price is so high that the outcome is always NO DEAL. I personally think the MySpace decentralized model of the web was better than what we have today, I even would prefer decentralized hosting. In a sense WordPress is providing that service.

Regarding Google, I also use duckduckgo, however it might not be relevant comparing search and meta search.

Do you remember what it was like searching with Google 3-5 years ago? I was much more likely to to find the results I was looking for as the first or second link.

I'd argue that reduced search quality is more a result of the proliferation of substanceless webpages that are designed to trick their way up the rankings. The web five years ago was considerably more information dense than the web today, so google needs to massively improve their search algorithm just to stay even.

Google is undoubtedly abusing their network effects/monopoly, but I don't think they intentionally sandbag search.

10. Not only does Trump hate tech but he doesn't understand it. He's also secretly jealous of the limelight the tech titans have at all hours of the day. Better to be Bezos than a bozo like Trump.

That's a weird take. Trump is probably the person most in the limelight in the history of the world--precisely because he is a bozo who is also President of the United States.

The King of Twitter hates tech? lol. sure.

Tyler's belief that blockchain will ever be other than a waste of money and electricity comes second only to his fondness for Singapore in casting doubt on every other one of his beliefs.

Tyler didn't say its a waste ; these are comments from somebody else. If you have read his earlier posts, at the very least he seems to indicate that it will be significant in the future.
You would make a better case with less snark.

anonymous, it seems to me that you completely misread JeffR23's message about what Tyler thinks regarding blockchain.

Au contraire - TC’s fondness for Singapore is what keeps me coming back!

Though I probably just have poor taste in countries...

When Bezos bought the Washington Post, it was a shot across the bow of DC, indicating that the rich techies were going to play politics. If he had gone the Bill Gates route and messed with charity, there would have been less reaction.

When Facebook was used for political campaigning, DC woke up to how big a player it could be. Zuck didn't help with his cynical approach to Congress.

When Google, Amazon and Apple all played games to avoid EU taxes, they pissed off regulators there.

When Snowden splashed all the NSA data across the worlds' newspapers, he was seen as tech pissing on DoD. Google employees not wanting to work on DoD projects doesn't help.

When Apple refuses to unlock phones for police, they piss off conservatives and government.

The existing retail industry is terrified of Amazon. The existing media industry is terrified of Amazon, Google and Facebook. The newspapers are dying due to 70% of advertising going to those services. A lot of rich people who are politically active have good reasons to hate tech.

Tech sees middle America as a bunch of ignorant losers who have no chance to join the modern economy. And Trump is their leader and avatar. They have no interest in dealing with Republicans.

A lot of this is self-inflicted. I don't know what happened to the 1980s libertarian, in-it-for-the-fun, don't-bother-me-with-politics tech industry. If tech had stayed with those attitudes, it would be in less trouble now.

What happened was the universities became polluted with non-sense. Tech requires, perhaps, more workers, by percentage, from universities than any other industry. Thus tech became political even when it had no business getting into politics.

Tech sees middle America as a bunch of ignorant losers who have no chance to join the modern economy.

I think tech by and large ignores middle America. Perhaps middle America interprets that as contempt? Tech is in the business of breaching frontiers and enabling change; it's therefore un-conservative at its core. Middle America, whatever else it may be, is conservative. Tech wouldn't remain tech if it adopted conservative attitudes.

I don't see any reason why tech and middle America need to converge to a common strand of thinking. Tech should be in the business of demonstrating possibilities, while leaving the framing of guardrails to tech-agnostic people.

You say on the one hand that you don’t know where tech’s libertarian attitudes went, and on the other you complain that Apple doesn’t want to carry out government searches for them, that they try to minimize taxation, and that tech workers don’t like gov’t (military) projects.

The attitudes didn’t go anywhere. It’s the remaining tech old guard of civil libertarians and minarchists that constantly get into hot water by trying to change things without making obeisance to the national bureaucracy.

A half-techie (one of those from #4) put it this way (from the position of one of his #1 minions): If I were popular with the cool guys and the pretty girls as a teenager, I would have most likely spend more time with them and less with my computer/science books.

Of course tech is going to focus more on hardware in Europe, since Europe is a bit player in the software/internet sector.

SAP is about the only example of a major software company founded and headquartered in Europe, and it's a fraction of a size of the major U.S. companies.

'since Europe is a bit player in the software/internet sector'

Ever hear of this guy called Torvalds? Wrote an obscure OS a couple of decades ago. One found on pretty much every smart phone made by any company not named after a fruit. Still seems to putter around maintaining his hobby OS, too.

What Europe has not done is jumped on the idea that a for profit surveillance society is a good idea, whether it is based on serving ads for profit, or selling personal information.

Does this spec mean anything to you - IEC 61131? It is based on a DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung) spec, that then became an EN (European norm).

Basically, if you are interested in something like Anlagenbau (for example, building a billion dollar chemical plant), it is the basis for the old fashioned meaning of the software tech involved in process control.

Facebook is a huge presence on the stock market, while the sort of tech that a company Siemens sells is easily ignored. Partially because Siemens is selling to a fairly small group of people, who are already educated in technology, though how much they know about 'tech' is open to question. A refinery is easily ignored in our brave new world, seeing its complex web of software and hardware as a place that 'tech' has passed by.

As noted by that previously posted article for Wang, the U.S. basically has no presence in the global industrial robot market. One could assume that the robotics market will actually be more valuable in the long term than Facebook. At least a couple of European countries think so, as do the Japanese (admittedly, the Japanese seem to have a certain passion in this area that is lacking in Europe). Here is the passage - 'The US has little position in making high-end precision manufacturing equipment. When it comes to factory automation systems, machine tools, robot arms, and other types of production machinery, the most advanced suppliers are in Japan, Germany, and Switzerland. I think the reason that the US has little position can be tied directly to the departure of firms from so many segments of manufacturing.'

American 'tech' is not a scam, but it does possess a large amount of hucksterism.

18. Tech in the US heavily involves foreign workers, who are either apathetic to local US policy concerns, or are leery of getting involved in them. The policy issues they are concerned about are immigration, and to some extent trade, but those issues are low priority for American tech workers (or the policy preferences of the two groups could be at antagonistic.)

18. Tech employment is growing but will remain small for the foreseeable future, thus tech can comfortably remain "the other" for some time to come. In metros such SF or Seattle where they are a sizable population, local politics is a lot more respectful of the tech worldview and cautious not to push them too hard.

19. Tech growth seems boundless, and workers in other industries experience their relative productivity decreasing steadily year by year. People are naturally extremely sensitive to relative changes in productivity.

20. The modern tech workplace is truly terrifying. The speed and competition are brutal, empathy is rare. It has dethroned Wall Street as the chief source of managerial anxiety.

My impression of local politics vis-à-vis the tech industry in SF is the exact opposite of yours.

There is little a SFer hates more than the tech industry and its workers.

Hate but fear, "respect" was the wrong choice of words.

The fact that Google and Facebook and Craigslist and Yelp and the others are basically driving media companies into bankruptcy would be sufficient to explain why so many prominent people (especially media types) are hostile to tech.

I suspect the circular-firing-squad SJW bits of tech are driven by the fact that a lot of software/technology people are pretty literal-minded. If you convince them that some ideology is true and proper, a lot of them take it very seriously, even the parts that the in-the-know, more socially-adept adherents to the ideology know are really just trolling the mundanes or rhetorical flourishes.

Number of people murdered by "Robespierrean social justice terror": 0.

Number of people murdered by "good people on both sides" neo-Nazis: why bother counting?

Time to turn off the comments again. That way, this kind of Mille Collines style garbage won't be called out.

Tech solves a load of collective action problems that we aren't always better off having solved. The racist fringes round my way seem to be having an easier time organising now that people can just find a group on Facebook, rather than having to risk social censure by talking to people about their views.

There's also the fairly obvious point that things like Twitter have make big contributions to the absolutely woeful state of political discourse. Personally I'd like to see all elected representatives banned from the platform.

And then there's the whole emerging digital panopticon, too, which has the potential to change norms in such a way that people are going to seriously hanker for the freedom they had back in the nineties.

#8: These de facto monopolies may threaten some people's livelihood, giving them a hard time might be pandering to the base, if there is money to extract, that's a good bonus.

I was interested by the fact that there was no mention of pharmaceutical and medical tech in this blog. These fields are highly regulated.

Here is an example of high technology that is regulated to the hilt.
Hospitals have a lot in common with prisons. People are sent to prisons because they have done something wrong externally, and to hospitals because their bodies have done something wrong internally. But in both people lose control over what happens to them, and in both their lives can end (more so in prisons). The purpose of both is to return the inmates to society as useful productive citizens. Both are suffering from underfunding and understaffing.

Biology is far more complex than physics or engineering. Tech companies do try to introduce disruptive technologies into that world. The financial rewards are enormous.

Adaptive optics eye glasses, for example, would destroy the opticians profession by making automatically adjusting spectacles where one size fits all. They would be infinitely better as well as the prescription changes according to what the customer is looking at.

I do wonder what would happen to the dental care profession if toothpaste was introduced that really eliminated decay and gum disease.

That is the battleground between those who want total control and those who want people to have more freedom.

Who knew that bringing up Industrie 4.0 here would lead to only a few select people being able to be exposed to the concept. Maybe the problem was referencing to IEC 61131? Or was it quoting Dan Wang's observations on the robotics industry?

Always fascinating to see what is allowed and what is not allowed by whoever judges what comments remain and which don't.

Tech leaders may be to the left on social issues, but not on economic issues. This creates something of a hybrid that doesn't fit on the left or the right. Here is an article in today's NYT about how tech billionaires have exploited a loophole in the rules for charitable giving to avoid hundreds of millions if not billions in income taxes without actually parting with any of their money: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/03/business/donor-advised-funds-tech-tax.html My view about tech is that its size vastly overstates its actual value. That's not to overlook some significant innovations in tech, but the innovations early on have been followed by an obsession for profits, profits generated either from advertising or facilitating internet commerce. "Novel ideas" in tech seem to be more about vanity than progress.

If I were to identify one characteristic of tech that creates suspicion if not disbelief it's the absence of transparency. Who are these people and what are they up to? Manufacturing companies own tangible assets and make tangible products. Not so with tech: tech produces intangible assets that can't be seen or touched. How does one know the value of something that is intangible? Indeed, is it all a mirage, hype promoted by tech leaders and their funders. For a skeptic like me, I fear we are in a dangerous place, racing along without knowing where we are going, like passengers in one of those driverless cars. I've commented many times that driverless cars will need their own right of way to be safe and therefore practical. Maybe tech needs its own right of way so the rest of us are kept out of harm's way.

"tech produces intangible assets that can't be seen or touched. How does one know the value of something that is intangible? Indeed, is it all a mirage"

So kind of like lawyers, but with the saving grace of not being able to create their own demand.

2, 4, and 14 approach but do not directly address one of the big factors: too much STEM emphasis in their interests and education (both formal and informal), and not enough non-STEM liberal arts: political science, economics, history, and philosophy especially but anything that gets them out of their tech thought bubbles including literature and foreign languages would help.

Someone who spends their life studying coding, AI, databases, UX, and the like, while relying on half-baked or autodidactic thoughts about society and policy will be a deer in the headlights when confronted with complex social questions.

Fewer superstars and more worker control. Unionization is innovative.

The centralization problem is very real: For a sector that is a very high percentage of the US economy and its stock market, very few congresspeople have a large constituency of tech people that have no problem maxing out contributions every election. All the influence they get is from very small networks of Californian big donors, which don't compete, in quality, to Libertarian equivalents.

I've been telling tech leaders to stop opening offices in the exact same cities every other large company does, purely for long term political advantage. They feel they will be fine without said advantages though.

I think tech is disruptive but the disruption is a feature only for those who, as Robert Reich delineated it decades ago, thrive in the symbolic economy, while for those who don’t, it’s a bug. Yes they get streaming and text freely, but otherwise it’s hard to see a benefit to them making a living. Meanwhile, there is definitely an otherness in terms of wealth, geography, educational attainment and ethnicity that is a lightning rod for finger-pointing.

The one thing that perplexes me about tech & politics is the rabid fixation on race, ethnicity and gender. I still can’t figure out how that evolves out of jobs that mainly consist of typing code and looking at a screen.

I think I'd dismiss pretty much everything suggested so far and go with the simple Willie Sutton explanation. Everyone with political power wants (and feels entitled to) a juicy piece of the tech fortune pie.

As only the most basic of primers, perhaps beleaguered tech leaders might consult in whole or in part Tzvetan Todorov's exposition (in Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle) of the "epistemology of the human sciences" (chapter two--a dense chapter not fourteen pages long in translation) that he discerned in the works of the Russian literary scholar. They'll have to make their own calls whether to observe the proffered differences in objects of study and methodology said to distinguish natural sciences from human sciences. (Scientists and technologists seem never to confess broadly or specifically the anthropological premises underlying their work: would love to hear the full account of their anthropological motives for the advent of Technogenic Climate Change.)

They might then proceed to the equally instructive chapter seven, "Philosophical Anthropology", where they might ruminate upon the monological imperialism of their enterprise long enough to consider the dual claims (Todorov's [Bakhtin's, too, if Todorov is on the money]) that "understanding" in the modern era has been reduced to "identification" and that "all cognition has been conceived of in the image of cognition in the natural sciences, which . . . deal with objects and not with other subjects, and know of only one consciousness: that of the scientist himself".

Then might they begin to wonder properly about the unique contributions their tech gadgetries have contributed to the reification of discourse, true to the logic of their intrinsic monological premises.

I was born into an analog world. Now, I can sit at my desk and execute 100 billion actions before sundown without asking anyone's permission. That changes things.

"1. Most tech leaders aren’t especially personable. Instead, they’re quirky introverts. Or worse."

That's number one for a reason.

People go into all kinds of tech, from electricians to electronics, because they like the predictable world of things. Programmers especially like an abstract invented world of the mind.

Asking them to go out and be politicians (even part-time) is like asking a zebra to become a kangaroo.

Enjoy your iPhone.

Right. You're asking nerds to become politicians. Even if they tried, they would suck at it. What they need to do is hire people to be politicians for them. It's possible the silicon-valley-social-justice alliance is something like this. The Freaks and Geeks coalition. We'll defend your transgender rights and you keep the politicians out of our hair so we can be left alone to make cool robots.

Chris Hughes kind of tried that. He bought out The New Republic to support his husband's political run, and when it didn't work everything fell apart.

All of these factors seem very relevant, except maybe the last one about tech not offering very much.
Let's not forget the pre-smartphone era! I use my phone for so much, like most people, it seems.
And for those of you who dislike google search, just spend a month exclusively using another service. I tried to go 100% DuckDuckGo and found that I needed to use Google when I wanted to find certain things.
Aside from this quibble... aren’t these factors the “perfect storm” to create a lot of political attacks and general resentment?

I'm not sure why you think tech has political problems. I don't think this is true. I suppose Zuckerberg had to appear, and Google annoyed the EU but it has very little to do with tech generally.

I don't think the tech rank and file are anti-Republican. Just the VCs/owners. Tesla is not a tech company, the anti-Tesla complaints were driven by the media and not by Tesla staff or tech workers. All the Austin tech workers hate California/Boston tech workers otherwise they would live elsewhere.

But tech basically gets what it wants from policy.

Lots of good little theories but I focus on:
1) When the government does not act or control, other actors fill the void. The most obvious is Free Speech and people like Alex Jones. Alex Jones is not be prosecuted by the government but tech companies with his links are giving him a platform or suppressing his speech.

2) They are near monopolies and large international/national companies always have a big role in the nation politics. I am old enough to remember the phone Ma Bell wars.

3) Tech companies don't employ a bunch people.

4) Tech is both a conservative economic model but very multicultural and international in focus. They are 'globalist' that Trump complained about.

5) I still say the biggest issue of Ayn Rand philosphy is the Jon Galts turn into the Taggarts a lot quicker than she understood. So Mark Zuckenberg with Facebook (who beat out a variety of competitors) wrote a very good internet site and he was Jon Galt in 2010. Now, he is rich Taggart by running the social media site on the global interwebs.

Tech companies were non political until the Clinton administration went after MS. They were running under the radar and very libertarian. MS got out of it by funnelling million into lobbyists, pretty much what the the administration was trying to do. Got to pay your dues.

Since then they've either gone the libertarian route of the big gov't route looking for corporate welfare.

Performance is easy to measure in tech, either your code works or it doesn't. In politics, it doesn't matter what reality is.

If you asked the average American what percentage of the population was comprised of immigrants or what the murder rate of Chicago was, they will vastly overestimate both. So of course tech is frustrated with people in power who have the means to educate themselves and others but choose not to. Making appeals to logic will be completely ineffective.

They have shown they are important to electoral outcomes so incumbents probably want to regulate them to reduce variance

I hang onto a few quotes that seem to reveal tech/Silicon Valley in the political realm.

In regards to the personalities:

"Clearly, it is unrigorous to equate skills at doing with skills at talking. My experience of good practitioners is that they can be totally incomprehensible— they do not have to put much energy into turning their insights and internal coherence into elegant style and narratives. Entrepreneurs are selected to be just doers, not thinkers, and doers do, they don’t talk, and it would be unfair, wrong, and downright insulting to measure them in the talk department."
--Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

As to SV's fundamental beliefs:

" I found crucial to what is distinct between libertarians and valley folk that Silicon Valley’s ideology is pro-market but it is not pro-liberty. Liberty is not a value. They are highly, highly, collectivist. They believe that every single person has a positive obligation to society and the government can help people or coerce people or incentive into making a unique contribution."
--May 25, 2016 at AEI, 'Why does Silicon Valley seem to love Democrats and dismiss the GOP? A Q&A with journalist Greg Ferenstein'

I read that as SV elite being feudal in their political attitude.

And Russ Roberts offered this on a recent Econtalk on what tech targets:

"There’s this meme that tech culture is solving one problem: “What is my mother no longer doing for me?” Or, as George Packer put it in 2013, “It suddenly occurred to me that the hottest tech start-ups are solving all the problems of being twenty years old, with cash on hand, because that’s who thinks them up.”"

Lots of the tech rank & file love Trump, but I'll admit, the majority probably dislikes him. Peter Thiel + Curtis Yarvin are from tech. I work in tech and I consider Trump the greatest President of all time.

Trump doesn't hate tech. That's not a reasonable comment. No one thinks Trump has animosity towards technology. Trump does have spats with leaders of Amazon, Google, and Apple, but he'd love them if they supported him.

Here's another public choice answer that I didn't see on the list: politicians are looking for now campaign contributions while also reassuring voters that they're on top of this new thing that's giving them worries, party due to the very same government's misuse of that technology. The stationary bandit is extracting rent from the newest and biggest kid on the playground.

Ah, I've got it. I was wondering what "WDC" stood for. "World-wide Democratic Conspiracy", perhaps? Maybe it calls for one of those 'Straussian readings', whatever they are, something like, "Women denouncing Cuckolds". And then I got it, Washington, D.C.

Fundamentally tech has political problems because until recently it was one of the few things not heavily regulated by national and local governments. This was true in the US and the EU (and for that matter, for a while, China). Regulators gonna regulate, authoritarians gonna authoritate.

For a long time the internet was largely uncensored at the publication side. If you wanted to censor it you did it at the customer side, via firewalls and such. Now the tech companies are trying to backstop against "fake news" (who decides?), "violent speech" (who decides?), "racist speech" (who decides?). Efforts to engineer such censorship are so far crude and full of false positives. That leads to demands for more and better censorship algorithms. Repeat as needed until you get China. The great thing for regulators (both private and governmental) is that once they get the camel's nose under the tent, they can keep working that grift for a long, long time. The tech censors are deluding themselves by thinking they can prevent governmental regulation by providing their own. The end point is governmental censorship.

#1 is the best, but needs elaboration.

Politics is about relationships. Tech people are not good at relationships, they don't have the social skills to be good politicians. They lack tact and are systematizing to an extent that alienates non-technical people. (i.e. treating humans as variables in an equation).
In short they have political problems because they suck at politics.

Should have kept the comments closed.

I read all 112 comments hoping for an intelligent point.


They fit the Kahneman system 1 and 2 model perfectly; which is why the internet led, neo-liberal boom has appeared to be so successful. What's missing (for Kahneman) and the rest are systems 3 and 4, namely emotion/empathy and morality. Neither can be well explained by the intuitioned or reasoned mind. How does one love a heroin addict even if what they do is reprehensible?

I agree with your points that you have mentioned above.
As we begin a new year and a new political administration takes office in the US, let’s take some time to consider some pressing issues that exist at the nexus of technology and social justice and think about how as social justice advocates can address them most effectively.

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