A study of Silicon Valley technology titans and how their narratives of success have influenced political, social, and economic discourse.
In a fairly short period of time, roughly 25 years since the internet became accessible to private development, the libertarian-leaning belief system of Silicon Valley has practically become dogma. As former New York Times tech columnist Cohen pointedly shows in his character studies, the clout of tech superstars, the so-called know-it-alls, is based on their winner-take-all vision of society, a meritocratic fantasy that conflates their enormous wealth with individual greatness. Aside from their libertarian narrative of success, a chief principle of their belief is disruption. The concept has become so ingrained in contemporary culture that it has even infected politics, giving rise to outsider politicians such as Donald Trump, whom PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel openly endorsed. The goal of disruption is a conceited effort to upset the status quo, or established order, regardless of how successful or popular it may be. It might be tempting to characterize Cohen as a Luddite with an ax to grind, but he shows how the cult of personality for tech entrepreneurs developed out of a “combination of a hacker’s arrogance and an entrepreneur’s greed” and they have selfishly exploited technological advances for personal gain. Beginning with researcher and early artificial intelligence advocate John McCarthy, the author devotes each chapter to a specific CEO or mega-investor—including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page—and takes aim at the toxic mythmaking that legitimizes the often underhanded business practices, questionable ethics, and self-aggrandizement. By exposing the fragile veneer of their exorbitant wealth, Cohen helps chip away at the power these men (another crucial quality) have carved out for themselves.
An enlightening breakdown of how Silicon Valley billionaires have shifted popular discourse in their favor.