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Ten Problems for Silicon Valley in the 2020s

Literature Review: Silicon Valley Problems for the 2020s

Over the last 20 years, Silicon Valley has benefited from a once-in-a-lifetime alignment of advantages. American primacy, the ubiquity of cheap capital, the arrival of the smartphone (among other widely adopted tech innovations), and, perhaps most significantly, a benign regulatory environment, have all conspired to create a historic concentration of wealth and power. That might not be true for much longer, however. There are signs that the gilded age for consumer internet businesses may be drawing to a close [1].

In addition to Google’s dominant role in digital advertising and its alleged practice of steering users to search results beneficial to itself, U.S. lawmakers are eyeing Facebook’s overwhelming control of social media, Amazon’s mounting command of retail markets, and potential privacy violations by all the major platforms. But Big Tech’s most pernicious effects on economic growth and consumer welfare may stem less from “anticompetitive and exclusionary practices” than from its role in directing technological change more broadly [2].

As Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have devoured the online world, they have undermined traditional media, empowered propagandists, and widened America’s political divides. The smartphone, for all its wonder and utility, has also proved to be a narcotizing agent. But what if, instead of focusing on Big Tech’s sins of commission, we paid equal attention to its sins of omission—the failures, the busts, the promises unfulfilled [3]?

The Valley’s most valuable product is the contrarian thinking that fuels its innovation culture. World-famous companies that have never turned a profit. A sprawling homeless epidemic cheek by jowl with some of the wealthiest zip codes in the world. Techies who are more likely to bond at Burning Man than at golf courses. Silicon Valley seems to make little sense from the outside. Silicon Valley start-ups have received the lion’s share of US-based venture capital funding over the past 10 years. Yet, many visiting executives struggle to find a foothold because they can’t seem to find the magic formula that makes Silicon Valley tick [4].

Why do tech elites believe they are the world’s greatest do-gooders and why does it matter what they say and (claim to) think? Solutionist ideas have become central to the (self-)image of today’s tech companies. Solutionism refers to the idea that the use of technologies – by inventive and cunning entrepreneurs – is the royal road to fixing social problems. Solutionist ideas are indeed central to the worldview of tech elites, and that they are also gaining ground in the broader tech milieu, although not yet in the normative discourse of capitalism at large [5].

Starting from such general references, this booklet identifies ten relevant areas from very recent contributions put forward at academic level in the form journal articles, conference proceedings and students’ theses. Ten freely accessible internet references have been selected for each area and direct links are provided at the end of each chapter for own consultation. Our selected references do not intend to mirror ranking indexes nor establish novel classifications. On the contrary, they are meant to represent peer-reviewed, diverse and scientifically-sound case studies for vertical dissemination aimed at non-specialist readers. They will also be able to scoop even more references through the bibliography that is reported at the end of each selected reference.

Without further ado, these are the “Ten Problems for Silicon Valley in the 2020s” that we are going to introduce in this booklet:

  1. solutionism,
  2. monopolies,
  3. diversity,
  4. outsiders,
  5. gig economy,
  6. misuse,
  7. narrowness,
  8. obsolescence,
  9. manipulation,
  10. public mood.

Each problem has its own dedicated chapter made of an introductory section, a short presentation of the ten selected references and a conclusions section.

The final chapter of this booklet will report the conclusions from each chapter again in order to provide a complete executive summary.

GENERAL REFERENCES CITED

[1] M. Gavet, “What’s Next for Silicon Valley?”, 30 Sep 2020, Harvard Business Review, online at https://hbr.org/2020/09/whats-next-for-silicon-valley , accessed on 23 Nov 2020

[2] D. Acemoglu, “Antitrust Alone Won’t Fix the Innovation Problem”, 31 Oct 2020, CGTN, online at https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-10-31/Antitrust-alone-won-t-fix-the-innovation-problem-V2wpoN4Y7K/index.html , accessed on 23 Nov 2020

[3] D. Thompson, “The Real Trouble With Silicon Valley”, Jan/Feb 2020, The Atlantic, online at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/01/wheres-my-flying-car/603025/ , accessed on 23 Nov 2020

[4] G. Rangan et al., “Illogical Truths: The Paradoxes of Silicon Valley”, 27 Oct 2020, INSEAD Knowledge, online at https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/illogical-truths-the-paradoxes-of-silicon-valley-15451 , accessed on 23 Nov 2020

[5] O. Nachtwey et al., “The Solutionist Ethic and the Spirit of Digital Capitalism”, 13 March 2020, University of Basel and European University Institute, SocArXiv, doi:10.31235/osf.io/sgjzq , online at https://edoc.unibas.ch/76426/1/Nachtwey%2C%20Seidl_The%20Solutionist%20Ethic%20and%20the%20Spirit%20of%20Digital%20Capitalism.pdf


Silicon Valley Problems
“Ten Problems for Silicon Valley in the 2020s” booklet for Amazon Kindle, 2020; click on the cover to go to the dedicated Amazon listing page

By TenProblems

Literature Reviews for Inquisitive Minds

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