no, new yorker, tech has empathy, it’s our awful politicians who don’t
Not too long ago, I argued that the left has a passion for self-flagellation and harmful perfectionism, and as if on cue, tech writer Om Malik penned what amounts to a textbook example of it in the New Yorker, arguing that the oft left-leaning tech industry lacks the empathy to understand the damage that it caused, which ultimately led to Trump’s rise to power. Dusting off that old tried and true stereotype of the autistic techie who inhabits a world side by side with other humans but is incapable of relating to them, he cherry picks a few Silicon Valley companies’ problems as representative of tech as a whole while quoting techies who spend their days figuring out the true impact of globalization and automation on the future of humanity. His half-baked, all too irrelevant examples tell us nothing new, and his indirect indictment of tech’s inability to solve all the world’s problems is simply maddening.
It’s not that techies don’t understand that news on social media creates a lot of problems and echo chambers, or that robots are replacing humans in ways that have massive ripple effects on the economy. Just look at this blog for a track record of warnings about automation and its effects on the economy going back years, backed by academic studies on this very subject. Maybe living in the Bay Area’s typically self-absorbed scene convinced Malik that all of tech is accurately represented by Facebook, Twitter, Uber, and a bunch of flash-in-the-pan app startups, and if they can’t solve complicated problems, no one will because they lack the empathy to do so? This is pretty much the only explanation I have for how he could’ve considered what he wrote a full thought on the subject. No, we techies know full well what we’re doing, but we’re also not omnipotent. We come up with ideas, build robots, and write a lot of code to make it all work. We don’t pass budgets and trade deals.
For years, techies from Silicon Valley to the rare thriving industry hub in the Midwest, have been warning that schools rely too much on testing with piss poor results, and that we desperately need job training for future careers, as well as more support for skilled trades. Many have started boot camps and campaigned to make coding and engineering basic skills taught in schools in an effort to help fix this problem. Many of these efforts came from and were funded by techies in that supposedly cold, cruel, inhumane Silicon Valley to boot. And you know how politicians responded? With partisan shenanigans and lip service to the need for change. They cannot understand this brave new world, and dismiss those of us who at least know what’s going on while paying lip service to the need for change. Trump’s vision for the something as important as the future of education in light of globalization is to name a billionaire with no experience and advocating more of the policies which we saw fail for the better part of the last decade in charge of the whole thing.
Instead of figuring out how to create a safety net that will catch those out of work due to automation, give them easily accessible education and access to basic healthcare, and promote more science and research to acclimate them to the post-industrial economy, they stand ready to shred that net, double down on miserably failing ideas, and gut scientific funding in favor of more tax cuts for the already wealthy and powerful. They’ve learned nothing and see no problems with prioritizing backwards, authoritarian social agendas over trying to take care of our actual future. And the people who eagerly put these malicious ideologues in power honestly believe that as soon as they’re able to show all of those techies, and scientists, and minorities, and anyone else with whom they disagree their place under the soles of their boots, that wealth and prosperity society supposedly owes them for following the rules of their ideology, will gloriously rain down from the heavens.
Seriously, we do and can understand what’s happening to those who were left behind by globalization. Stop telling us that we don’t. We know many of the problems, we have multiple solutions, and we can help. But the people who we want to help continually spit in our faces and elect politicians who campaign on the promise of gutting their safety nets even more, and preach that with enough tax cuts, they will miraculously have shiny new jobs. This is where our empathy gets tested, not when we think of a new feature able to automate away an existing job, but when we talk about more education, more research, more job training, more accessible healthcare, and opening up to new ideas from across the world, and are met with hatred, derision, and self-destructive policies portrayed as self-defensive nostalgia.
If we fail to stop those affected from hurting themselves, we will be attacked as cruel and neglectful globalists. And if we don’t, we’ll be branded as elistist know-it-alls, whose mollycoddling as grounds for yet another Trump. So is it any wonder why techies aren’t rushing to the rescue right now, knowing the end result with be an angry backlash from people who only want help from those who look like them, can pass their ideological purity tests, and only on their terms? Why struggle to try and relate, to come up with solutions, to do what we can to offer new ideas and the technology to make them work if all we get is more abuse that politicians will harness to secure yet another term in office and millions in PAC money? How does debating whether we should even help when that help is unwanted mean we lack empathy?