/ Cory Doctorow / 4 am Tue, Apr 14 2020
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  • Abolish Silicon Valley: memoir of a driven startup founder who became an anti-capitalist activist

    Abolish Silicon Valley: memoir of a driven startup founder who became an anti-capitalist activist

    Wendy Liu grew up deeply enmeshed in technology, writing code for free/open source projects and devouring books by tech luminaries extolling the virtues of running tech startups; after turning down a job offer from Google, Liu helped found an ad-tech company and moved from Montreal to New York City to take her startup to an incubator. As she worked herself into exhaustion to build her product, she had a conversion experience, realizing that she was devoting her life to using tech to extract wealth and agency from others, rather than empowering them. This kicked off a journey that Liu documents in her new book, Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism, a memoir manifesto that's not just charming -- it's inspiring.

    Liu grew up a true believer in "meritocracy" and its corollaries: that success implies worth, and thus failure is a moral judgment about the intellect, commitment and value of the failed.

    Her tale -- starting in her girlhood bedroom and stretching all the way to protests outside of tech giants in San Francisco -- traces a journey of maturity and discovery, as Liu confronts the mounting evidence that her life's philosophy is little more than the self-serving rhetoric of rich people defending their privilege, the chasm between her lived experience and her guiding philosophy widens until she can no longer straddle it.

    Liu's remorseless self-examination and willingness to cop to ways that her beliefs suffused her friendships and working relationship with toxicity make an excellent counterpoint to the book's conclusion, in which she reformulates her views on technology and economics and social justice. The last chapter is a set of general policy and economic recommendations on how to orient the tech industry -- and the wider economy -- around human thriving a sustainable relationship with our planet. These are very good, too, though they have some unexplored contradictions (for example, a demand that software engineers be licensed like other engineers; and also a demand that key software be universally free/open source).

    Technologists all over the world are coming to grips with the ethical implications of their work and realizing that no amount of code can substitute for political engagement. Liu's memoir is a roadmap for that journey of realization (it helps that she's a sprightly, witty writer).

    Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism [Wendy Liu/Repeater]

    (Image: Coolcaesar, CC BY-SA)

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