America's Great Silicon Divide

politics | Feb 24, 2015 | By Denyse O'Leary

Last time out, I talked about the economic difference between producing social media and consuming it. People who think that getting underprivileged kids involved with social media will, in itself, boost social equality fail to appreciate this key distinction.
 
High tech knowledge is what pays, not fun and entertainment with high tech. Which is why Silicon Valley parents restrict their kids’ time with the all-consuming social apps that made their families rich, in favour of study, exercise, and real world relationships.
 
But let’s zoom out a bit now. Silicon Valley itself is, overall, a highly unequal society. Consider:
 
– The Valley, replete with apps and social media, added 45,000 new jobs in 2013. But there is another, less celebrated figure, according to local paper SFGate:
 
… those making $100,000 and up, a group that constitutes 45 percent of the region's population, saw their incomes rise. Those making $35,000 to $99,000 (35 percent), or less than $35,000 (20 percent) saw their incomes fall.
 
– African American and Latino residents earn 70 percent less than the region's top earners, the biggest gap recorded so far. That’s probably because they are much less likely to be the Valley’s famed geeks. There are few African Americans in the high tech industry, and their history in the Silicon Valley region has been one of struggle (TechCrunch)
 
– Qualified women have a hard time getting a foothold in the industry, whose culture has been described as:
 
… savagely misogynistic. In inverse ratio to the forward-looking technology the community produces, it is stunningly backward when it comes to gender relations. Google “Silicon Valley” and “frat boy culture” and you’ll find dozens of pages of articles and links to mainstream news articles, blogs, screeds, letters, videos and tweets about threats of violence, sexist jokes and casual misogyny, plus reports of gender-based hiring and firing, major-league sexual harassment lawsuits and a financing system that rewards young men and shortchanges women.
 
It’s a community in which the porn-inspired, “drading” college tweets of Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, go public; where a CEO’s history of domestic violence has no repercussions but female executives get fired for tweeting about sexist jokes they overhear. (Newsweek)
 
And if the women survive, rampant ageism will sink their careers (along with those of older men).
 
– Silicon Valley, the “center of America's innovation economy,” is also home to “the largest homeless camp in the continental United States, which is located in a middle-class neighborhood in San Jose.” (Business Insider) That social gap is called The Great Divide.
 
Well, a pause for thought now: Some will argue that things were bound to end this way because, after all, the high-tech future will see robots running everything and humans idle. But that’s not likely, for reasons I will unpack in more detail in later columns.
 
In reality, if the rift Valley is the future, the future is the past! There have always been sharply divided societies. We did not need high tech for that. It could be landowners vs. serfs or magnates vs. workers.
 
The main thing to see is, despite the apparently world-changing drama of high tech, it’s the old world yet.
 
 
Denyse O'Leary writes for MercatorNet, from where this article is adapted.

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