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July 1, 2013 6:42 AM   Subscribe

Can Silicon Valley Save the World?
posted by infini (43 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not if Foreign Policy requires a sign up to even read the article, it won't.
posted by xingcat at 6:43 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not asking me for a signup (this time - it has in the past).
posted by rtha at 6:48 AM on July 1, 2013


TL;DR

(Told me to login; didn't read)
posted by edheil at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


FWW, I hit the page with Adblock Plus and No-script enabled, and the login pop-up thingie seems thoroughly defeated.
posted by jquinby at 6:53 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The persistent issues in the Tenderloin neighborhood suggest that Silicon Valley isn't solving the social ills of poverty, drug abuse and crime.
posted by humanfont at 6:57 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


The persistent issues in the Tenderloin neighborhood suggest that Silicon Valley isn't solving the social ills of poverty, drug abuse and crime.


Clearly, now is the time for a One Laptop Per Junkie program.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:00 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a great example of hoping/relying on science and engineering to keep a high population livable in unenviable conditions/areas.

Still lobbying for getting the population down to 800m or less without an OCP-lite event before the end of the century as the solution to so, so many of our problems.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I made a bookmarklet that you can drag to your bookmarks bar, and which will hide the signup screen. You can get to it here.
Go to the web page, and drag the "Hide FP Login" link to your bookmarks bar. Then you can click on that when it asks you to log on.
posted by zoo at 7:03 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


We'll do literally anything to fight poverty, as long as it doesn't involve relieving poverty.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:05 AM on July 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


[Swapped out the link for a Coral cache version, hope that helps with the pop-ups.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2013


non-nyud link, for the proxy filtered.
The tech gurus, like so many evangelists of earlier eras, are wildly overoptimistic about what their gadgets can accomplish in the world's poorest places. In this they share a rich history of failure.
Poverty is a complex problem, the "solving" of which requires fixing many things simultaneously. A new app doesn't do that - BUT.

Creating new, faster, more effective ways of sharing information and communication can let people in poverty come up with and enact their own solutions. If tech can solve poverty, it will be enterpreneurs in Lagos, Mumbai and Jakarta who solve it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Still lobbying for getting the population down to 800m or less without an OCP-lite event before the end of the century as the solution to so, so many of our problems.

I'm confused. Global population is in the vicinity of 7 billion while US population is 300 million. Which one should go down to 800m?
posted by infini at 7:08 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWW, I hit the page with Adblock Plus and No-script enabled, and the login pop-up thingie seems thoroughly defeated.

Ah, sorry, didn't realize there was blockage to the article for other readers. Thank you, mod for the link swap. Will watch this for FP links in the future.
posted by infini at 7:09 AM on July 1, 2013


We'll do literally anything to fight poverty, as long as it doesn't involve relieving poverty.

Well, more completely, so long as it does not require us to make any significant change in our behavior, and it can be properly monetized.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


LOL. Silicon valley does nothing for anyone else. Look at the tech moguls of today--the richest people in the world--and their charitable contributions. Then look at the contributions of the moguls of days past. Carnegie literally built Pittsburgh. What has Zuckerburg done? Set up some plastic charity because his PR person told him to?
posted by Halogenhat at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


. It isn't clear why anyone would pay 10 times that for a light whose power source you have to kick around for half an hour to get less illumination.

This sounds like the compliment to the recent post on The Unexotic Underclass. Even when we do go after the so-called Big Problems, we're still beholden to a marketplace of donors who are so unable to relate to the people they're trying to help that they think a stupid soccer ball light is a pretty neat idea that's worth funding.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:12 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Look at the tech moguls of today--the richest people in the world--and their charitable contributions. Then look at the contributions of the moguls of days past. Carnegie literally built Pittsburgh.

Carnegie's philanthropy didn't start until he was 66 years old.

Also, are you suggesting Bill Gates isn't a tech mogul?
posted by euphorb at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2013


I'm not Zuckerberg's publicist, but he did give $500 million in stock to charity last year. Sure, there's the whole tax angle, but he has committed to give half his wealth to charity—and he's 29, so, yeah, what euphorb said re: Carnegie.
“People wait until late in their career to give back. But why wait when there is so much to be done? With a generation of younger folks who have thrived on the success of their companies, there is a big opportunity for many of us to give back earlier in our lifetime and see the impact of our philanthropic efforts,” said Zuckerberg in a statement.
posted by Lorin at 7:35 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The tools that we'll use to end poverty may very well come out of Silicon Valley some day, but I seriously doubt that the ideas or implementation for the [thing that will actually end poverty] will come from a board room in California.

The OLPC and things like that soccer ball are cool thought-experiments, but are obviously impractical due to numerous other hurdles that must be cleared before any of those ideas are remotely practical (under what circumstances does one require a soccer ball light, and have $99 to spend on it?). The OLPC folks were particularly delusional, because, because nobody ever gave a satisfying answer to "So, the kids have laptops.... now what?" (8 years later, and we've only recently started making progress toward putting high-quality educational materials into the public domain)

If you want to invent a technology that could "end poverty," it needs to be cheap, and it should ultimately be something that could be produced locally.
posted by schmod at 7:40 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Carnegie literally built Pittsburgh. What has Zuckerburg done? Set up some plastic charity because his PR person told him to?

In fairness, Zuckerberg hasn't sicced the Pinkertons on his own employees.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:55 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


True generosity goes beyond money. Especially since if you are a billionare, 500 million might not be much to lose.

Per a previous mefi post, "what the non-élite need isn’t money, Murray thinks; it’s better values."

Writing checks is easy. I want them in the trenches.
posted by Halogenhat at 7:55 AM on July 1, 2013


Original link is down for me... anyone have a working one?
posted by JiffyQ at 7:56 AM on July 1, 2013


Plain old for-profit Silicon Valley businesses have probably does more to eliminate poverty than any philanthropy based enterprise it can conjure. For a lot of folks, it doesn't count. Philanthropic enterprises often can't meet the same levels of success, for reasons that amusingly seem to be mysterious and obvious at the same time. Good luck to tech guys, even if their plans are no more sophisticated than handing out gizmos to poor folks.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:06 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Felix Salmon had a good post about this piece, which introduced me to the delightful acronym QTWTAIN, "Question to which the answer is no" which is a good description of the title of the piece...
posted by Diablevert at 8:09 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


No.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:10 AM on July 1, 2013


Philanthropic enterprises often can't meet the same levels of success, for reasons that amusingly seem to be mysterious and obvious at the same time. Good luck to tech guys, even if their plans are no more sophisticated than handing out gizmos to poor folks.

Well, as Salmon points out, tech guys are no more immune to the central problem of philanthropy than any other donor: to survive, a charity must made it donors feel good; actually helping poor people is useful, but not necessary. And hey, helping poor people is hard, and so if you get mixed results you just emphasise the positive, and the poor people aren't really in a position to turn down whatever is is you think is nifty to give them, so, you know, the system works.
posted by Diablevert at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Global population is in the vicinity of 7 billion while US population is 300 million. Which one should go down to 800m?

If you can describe how 300m can "go down to" 800M, I'd be happy to explain which one was meant.
posted by DU at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2013


and the poor people aren't really in a position to turn down whatever is is you think is nifty to give them
posted by infini at 8:30 AM on July 1, 2013


Global population is in the vicinity of 7 billion while US population is 300 million. Which one should go down to 800m?

If you can describe how 300m can "go down to" 800M, I'd be happy to explain which one was meant.


Given the spate of recent suggestions on too much population growth among the teeming masses of South and East Asia or even Africa, I'm wondering about that how and where too.
posted by infini at 8:32 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe weighted by resource usage. But that might leave North America completely unpopulated...
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2013


DU I don't want to argue with you, besides it wasn't your throwaway comment. I guess I'm just beginning to wonder if I should be afraid just because my dna makes me brown and asian.
posted by infini at 9:20 AM on July 1, 2013


Well, I don't know what an "OCP-lite event" but presumably is a die-off of some kind. If we can just limit our growth, no-one currently living need have too much fear.
posted by DU at 9:26 AM on July 1, 2013


Our Changing Planet, most likely.
posted by infini at 9:49 AM on July 1, 2013


One-Child Policy, I think.
posted by Wemmick at 10:35 AM on July 1, 2013


hey, helping poor people is hard,
and hurting them is easy, fun, profitable and so often fully supported by your religion.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:45 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Felix Salmon article is spot on, thank you for the link, Diablevert. He drills down to the find the weakest link in the whole.

Someone said recently, "In aid, donors are never wrong. In trade, the customer is always king. Trade, not aid."

Sustainable businesses receive signals from "the market" through sales figures and customer feedback or complaints. They can choose to act upon this. Most companies do enough groundwork on a new market or population segment before investing in product development. Granted, software, apps, websites et al are not constrained by the same costs that developing and manufacturing a laptop or football would entail.

Yet the shiny glamour (that Unexotic Underclass article has a very strong point I've ranted on before irl) of uplifting the downtrodden in trendier locations (poverty porn we call it out here in the third world) obscures the need for any such rigour in business plan development or product design conceptualization. Just because what? Donor funding does not require the same accountability nor any means for the 'company' to go out of business if its product or service fails to deliver.

The caveat however is requiring the business to match or meet triple bottomline measures rather than profit alone. (The downside of that path can be seen in any number of FPPs in recent years on the impact of profit maximization on the end users)

Imho, the difference between success and failure in addressing these "markets" - untapped or not - is respect.

In the Unexotic Underclass thread someone commented that these segments had no money, thus what was the point of developing apps or solutions for their obviously pressing problems. Yet what is the difference between them and the skinny brown or black or yellow kid? They have no money either.

But they do have drawing power for donor support and tend to be scrabbling out a living growing beans and maize on top of increasingly scarce resources.

I don't know who to feel sadder for, the richworld's overlooked and underserved who will never be glamourous enough to be the recipients of such largesse or the poor fellow expected to play football so he can finish his homework. At least he's visible in the eyes of the whole world, even if labled the bottom of the pyramid but your Unexotic cannot be claimed as such for the BoP only live far away and somewhere else. Not here, not at home and certainly not next door.

I have chosen to put my energies behind my own, mindful of the fact that charity begins at home. Why can't Silicon Valley?
posted by infini at 11:09 AM on July 1, 2013


But don't free laptops undercut the market for laptop sales, thereby destroying thousands of jobs in countries that desperately need them?

All of these big-league aid orgs want you to believe that every country they're in is comprised of starving pot-bellied naked babies with their hands held out. But they overlook their own complicity in that starvation. It is a commonplace now in places like DR Congo and Ethiopia to use food aid, for instance, as a magnet to move large populations where dictators or warlords want them to go. This is reported back to the home office as a terrific success, even though it means more people have descended into extreme poverty, not been lifted out of it.

In reality, African countries have highly irregular but bustling and effective markets for just about everything, including computers. They're probably working in the "black market" or "informal economy" -- half of all workers worldwide are. But they're working. What they need is investment and functional institutions (banks, electrical power, transportation), not handouts that only benefit the manufacturers. Look at food aid from the US -- it provides wonderful subsidies for US farmers but destroys local food markets in Africa, making sure that African farmers leave their farms to come stand in the bread line with everyone else.

Have a look at Robert Neuwirth's Stealth of Nations. It's got a detailed description of the computer market in Lagos, as well as other technologies, and the hundreds of thousands of Nigerians and other Africans who are living in China near the factories and brokering trade that neither these Silicon Valley twats nor Gates in his glamorous new Foundation have no understanding of.

Gates recently called Dambisa Moyo "evil" for her opposition to his kind of thoughtless, market-destroying aid bombs, but he should be hiring her instead, to show him how to use his billions to make things better, not worse.
posted by Fnarf at 12:31 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, I don't know what an "OCP-lite event" but presumably is a die-off of some kind.

Outside Context Problem
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:56 PM on July 1, 2013


the man of twists and turns: Thanks for that.

Closest I could figure was Omni Consumer Products, the mega-corp central to Robocop; a corporatocracy wouldn't be too far off if you're talking about reducing the human population to so-called manageable levels.

--

The outcry I've seen about today's BART strike shows Silicon Valley is far from some liberal Utopian ideal, sorry to say.
posted by fragmede at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2013


Fnarf: yeah.

The best example, in the context of this discussion on Silicon Valley, is the recent PivotEast mobile developers conference and startup competition that just ended last week in Kampala. Its the 3rd since 2011.

My favourite is Kytabu, a startup predicated on the fact that ALL of the textbooks used in the current Kenyan curriculum can be fit onto a single 1GB SD card.

The reason I like these startups and ideas are because I don't see the Bay Area geniuses coming up with such simple yet impactful solutions to real world local problems. They would have tried to stream video over the cloud or some such.
posted by infini at 9:06 PM on July 1, 2013


I really enjoyed the example of how Marx and Engels thought that locomotive trains would be next big thing. Does anyone have similar historical examples?
posted by JiffyQ at 1:51 AM on July 2, 2013


Obama Plans to Power Africa—With Soccer Balls

Tanzania: Obama kicks soccer ball, generates power

Welp, we know who won the jostling for the photoshoot
posted by infini at 11:46 PM on July 2, 2013


The outcry I've seen about today's BART strike shows Silicon Valley is far from some liberal Utopian ideal, sorry to say.

Stupid Striking BART Union Doesn't "Get" Silicon Valley Values
posted by homunculus at 10:50 PM on July 9, 2013


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