Calexit and calls for secession from the union look extreme, over the shocking election victory of Donald Trump. Certainly, it’s no secret the president-elect appears to have an ax to grind with the winners in Silicon Valley. His past comments—directed just at them alone—have been threatening.
But leaders in the valley have a responsibility to the world that goes beyond their direct interests. They have the capacity to create technologies that either bring us together or push us apart. And not just a single nation like the US, but the entire world.
Perhaps the valley executive who most clearly expressed the exigencies of our present was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, when he posted this after the election results were clear:
Holding Max, I thought about all the work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children.
He goes on to list that work, like curing all disease, improving education, connecting everyone on the planet, and promoting equality of opportunity. The issue of connecting everyone is in Facebook’s wheelhouse. And post-election, Facebook has been receiving some criticism for the results. The complaint is that Facebook spread fake news through its social network which influenced the voting public.
Facebook doesn’t have a mechanism today that can determine if a news post is legit or, as in the case of the phony news site Denver Guardian, bogus. As a result, millions of people can be exposed to false headlines and sometimes that’s all anybody reads.
Silicon Valley executives like Zuckerberg are likely more emboldened than ever to create the world they want for their children, but first, they probably need to battle a future President Trump on issues that block them in succeeding.
Zuckerberg, Nadella, and Cook—On Building Bridges and Diversity
One of the primary issues to Trump, immigration, is also of vital interest to success in Silicon Valley. It operates on multiple levels. The first one affecting the entire valley is open access to global talent. US tech companies excel because they employ the brainpower and talent of foreign-born individuals.
The second level is that Trump’s rhetoric and his expressed policies are xenophobic and foster a vacuum of empathy and compassion for Others in US society. Who will want to live here if they feel despised while at the grocery store? Of if their children don’t feel safe at school?
Numerous technology stalwarts made public announcements immediately after election night results expressing clearly their values and hopes for the next administration. Apple CEO Tim Cook stated in a letter to all employees, “While there is discussion today about the uncertainties ahead, you can be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed.” In this Cook partly means Apple’s steadfast determination not just to accept but promote diversity and dignity for all people. The company has had its own diversity web page for some time now. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also took a measured response to election results by congratulating Trump on his victory and promising to work with his administration. But he also said this: “Our commitment to our mission and values are steadfast, and in particular fostering a diverse and inclusive culture”
Perhaps the valley’s most direct response to Trump’s signature policy ambition of building a wall along the Mexican-US border came from Zuckerberg back in April, when he said in a talk, “We can actually give more people a voice. Instead of building walls, we can help people build bridges. Instead of dividing people, we can bring people together.”
A Tall Order
This will be a tall order for social media and other technology companies. Despite the fact that globalization and technology make us far more aware of the rest of the world, this technology doesn’t necessarily generate increased empathy and sensitivity to those not like us. Awareness is not the issue, it’s giving a damn and showing it.
But how do we get beyond awareness?
Today’s technology is information-centric, not experience-centric. As Rony Abovitz of Magic Leap says, “Our media and computing today is separate from us. We watch television, we read books to understand the real or imagined experiences of others.” The question that the folks at Magic Leap are wondering is this: Why can’t visceral experience combine with computing?
If it could, and it will—eventually—things can really change.
How would the American voting block feel if they could have a visceral-based experience of the Sirian refugee crisis? How would they vote then?