It is a truth universally acknowledged that the world is connected as never before. Once upon a time, it was believed that there were six degrees of separation between each individual and any other person on the planet (including Kevin Bacon). For Facebook users today, the average degree of separation is 3.57. But perhaps that is not entirely a good thing. As Evan Williams, one of the founders of Twitter, told The New York Times in May 2017, “I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place. I was wrong about that.”
Speaking at Harvard’s commencement that same month, Facebook’s chair and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, looked back on his undergraduate ambition to “connect the whole world.” “This idea was so clear to us,” he recalled, “that all people want to connect. . . . My hope was never to build a company, but to make an impact.” Zuckerberg has certainly done that, but it is doubtful that it was the impact he dreamed of in his dorm room. In his address, Zuckerberg identified a series of challenges facing his generation, among them: “tens of millions of jobs [being] replaced by automation,” inequality (“there is something wrong with our system when I can leave here and make billions of dollars in ten years while millions of students can’t afford to pay off their loans”), and “the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism, and nationalism,” which oppose “the flow of knowledge, trade, and immigration.” What he omitted to mention was the substantial contributions that his company and its peers in Silicon Valley have made to all three of these problems.
No businesses in the world are working harder to eliminate jobs such as driving a truck than the technology giants of California. No individuals exemplify the spectacular growth of the wealth of the top 0.01 percent of earners better than the masters of Silicon Valley. And no company did more—albeit unintentionally—to help the
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