“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” – Hunter S. Thompson
It’s rare that an industry can make the dying music business appear almost reputable. The lack of diversity in the tech sector shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone with a passing knowledge of the industry. The rampant sexism is deplorable. However, I’d argue that these characteristics are reflective of an industry that has (at best) a barely functioning moral compass. The need to restructure and reevaluate ethics/business practices appears long overdue.
In the short term, the need to diversify employment is a must. Current hiring trends are not reflective of our society’s makeup with coveted jobs going to the privileged — disproportionately white, male and upper class. However, I don’t think simply changing the demographics of the tech industry to more accurately reflect our pluralistic society is enough. There needs to be a massive restructuring — a place where women can go to work and the all-consuming dollar doesn’t supersede their right to be treated fairly; to a place where workers aren’t 1099 contractors but employees with benefits and rights. I don’t think it’ll happen. The sort of cutthroat capitalism Silicon Valley prides itself on — the “creative destruction” of capitalism — appears to be a smokescreen for the atomizing effects it instills in workers and the acceptance of profits over people, to the point where sexual harassment is condoned because it wouldn’t make any economic sense to stop it. (I’d further argue that from a business standpoint, empowering workers into a more cooperative unit would improve productivity and morale. In addition to the rampant sexism at Uber, Susan Fowler mentions the lack of group cohesion and self-promotion at all costs to be a real productivity killer.)
Furthermore, women need better role models in the tech world. Two articles mention former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman (ex-CEO of eBay). While their ascents to the top of the tech industry are admirable, Fiorina’s attacks on Planned Parenthood are inexcusable; ditto Meg Whitman’s support of Prop 8 in California which sought to overturn gay marriage in the state. (While I understand these articles were written before these events took place, it nevertheless underscores the fact that women are just as capable of setting social progress back forty years, as well as internalizing the regressive values of the hegemonic culture they’re supposedly subverting.)
The article on Tristan Walker was enjoyable to read. It was also (as far as I can tell) the only one that made any sort of nebulous mention of economic class. Walker came from the wrong side of the tracks. But he was lifted out of his inferred hopeless milieu and was enrolled in the prestigious Hotchkiss prep school. There, he was exposed to all the privileges the white economic elite took for granted. But I can’t help but wonder — what happened to all of those he left behind in Queens? Shamefully, once he did make himself known in the tech world, Walker found himself without any support from his Caucasian counterparts. Again, a restructuring seems long overdue…
It may surprise some readers to find out that my mother dropped out of high school. Like most kids from broken homes, I only have a loose idea on where she’s currently living. My father was the first person in his family to finish high school, although the PTSD he picked up lugging an M60 machine gun around Vietnam didn’t really improve his job prospects. Being a cabinetmaker, tech meant nothing to him. And it wasn’t until I was eighteen in 2000 that I obtained a computer, many year after most of my classmates. I was the first person in my family to step foot inside a college classroom. Don’t believe me? Here’s a random 1998 autobiography I had to do for tenth-grade English that’s amazingly survived. Half of it was composed on a typewriter, the other half written in pen. The reason? The ink ribbon ran out. Computers were still exotic instruments for folks from poor stock in the late ’90s.
Does a young, female teenager in Gary, Indiana, or Flint, Michigan, have the same chances at getting a good job in tech as her counterparts in San Francisco or Austin? This question, of course, is much larger than tech, but I feel it’s a missing piece of the puzzle. Tech is the future. It’s where the money is at. People like me — who, in retrospect, should have never even been allowed into college — with a family lined with GM auto plant workers (Van Nuys plant that was shutdown in ’92), truck drivers (grandfather drove truck for Consolidated Freightways, proud member of the Teamsters) and cabinet makers/sometimes mechanics (me and my father) — we’re the past. We’re the maligned members of society. However, what’s happening in tech — specifically, job outsourcing — is what happened to my people back in the 1980s. Optimistically, the recent rush to make bodegas obsolete by a tech startup — to put another group of vulnerable business owners out of work — was greeted with derision. (Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the closing of the American Axle plant in Hamtramck, represented by the UAW, one of the most progressive unions around. Watch this meeting and note the diversity of the union leadership and the workers they represent. Tech has a lot to learn…)
There’s a storm coming, and parts of it have already hit shore. Being in touch with roughnecks, it’s getting ugly out there in manual labor land, where, as one of the articles noted, there’s been a switch from manufacturing to service industry work. Tech needs to incorporate a greater cross section of our society, employing people from different ethnic, racial, gender and class backgrounds. People know they’ve been left behind due to the simple lottery of birth. They’re confused and angry; they know something isn’t right. To paraphrase Joe Bageant, ignorance is the worst prison of all. If tech wants to be the future, it has to act like it. It needs to be responsible and accountable to people.