What Are the Effects of Silicon Valley's Culture Bubble?

Lack of diversity makes it harder to fully empathise with the “other”.

What are the effects of Silicon Valley’s insulated culture bubble? originally appeared on Quora, the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

In my opinion the culture bubble comes from an accumulation of factors, which I describe more in-depth in my upcoming book, Trampled by Unicorns:

Unprecedented wealth of Silicon Valley that has led to staff living and working in hyper-privileged bubbles where their every whim is catered to and every need anticipated.

Lack of diversity (across multiple dimensions - gender, ethnic, age, socio-economic background, etc...) that makes it harder to fully empathise with the “other” with whom you never truly cross paths

‘Tribal’ mythologies (meritocracy, libertarianism, absolute ideologies/dogmas, etc…) that reinforce the legitimacy of a handful of people and diminish the value of others. For example, if you genuinely believe that anyone has a shot at becoming a billionaire, and that Silicon Valley embodies the American Dream that anything is achievable, then it becomes easy to conclude that anyone who is not successful deserves their fate. This libertarian attitude helps explain quite a bit of the lack of empathy among tech’s elite, who often consider their vast wealth ‘earned’ and other people’s failure the result of some version of laziness, are generally suspicious of governments and who believe they pay too much in taxes.

To be clear: all these factors have helped spur a fast-moving, solution-oriented culture, where people are unafraid of daunting challenges and pursuing bold targets, enabling small startups to take on the biggest monopolies and incumbents. That shouldn’t be underestimated. It has given us any number of new tools and services. And personally I would find it very difficult to return to working in traditional corporations, which I now find often painfully slow and bureaucratic.

But it also means that increasingly isolated from the wider world, the tech elite has often gradually lost touch with the people they serve and, as a result, can no longer fully understand the societal impact they have. In my book, I interviewed Russell Hancock, the CEO and President of Joint Venture Silicon Valley. He said something that in my view summarizes quite well the worst consequence of this culture bubble: “It used to be that the things [Big Tech companies] were bringing to market were universally hailed and badly wanted. Now tech companies ....are [producing] tools that can be used to invade privacy, or tamper with democratic processes, or they’re addictive -- so they’re not ameliorating the condition of mankind, they are actually making us worse. That’s a really significant change.”

Photo Credit: heyengel/Getty Images