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Abolish Silicon Valley

Here is an interesting interview with Wendy Liu about the problems of the technology industry described in her book, Abolish Silicon Valley. These problems aren't really all that new, but as software has become a bigger part of the economy and everyday life it has just become more obvious that capitalism mediated through and amplified by software technologies is something grotesque and often anti-human, not even meeting many real human needs.

One point raised is that we should democratize the creation of technology, and this is really what Free Software has been about since the 1980s. When I'm developing some Free Software there is no boss belittling me or telling me I'm not allowed to do it, and systems created within that paradigm can be a lot more focused on what people really want or need out of software.

But Free Software hasn't been without its own problems. It emerged from the ivy league US universities and hence much of its history has reflected the sorts of upper middle class interests which people who attend those institutions are accustomed to, which are typically not exactly the same as the general population. Many of the problems we now see are really classism amplified and enforced through technology, and in its current formulation the Free Software movement doesn't have solutions for this. One really obvious indicator of the underlying divide is that most people who develop Free Software can't afford to fly to conferences in arbitrary locations on the globe at least once per year, and this tends to mean that only certain middle class narratives are told and become integrated into the lore of hackerdom. On rare occasions grants might be made available to try to increase diversity, but nobody wants to become someone else's charity case.

What I think is needed is something like Free Software, but with enough of a surrounding organization to it that the value it generates can't easily be captured by large corporations such as Google. We definitely also need standards making organizations which are not just corporate consortia, as W3C is.

Tag: free software