Shoshana Zuboff’s epic critique of Silicon Valley, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, is out today, and so is my review, “Thieves of Experience: How Google and Facebook Corrupted Capitalism,” in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It begins:
We sometimes forget that, at the turn of the century, Silicon Valley was in a funk, economic and psychic. The great dot-com bubble of the 1990s had imploded, destroying vast amounts of investment capital along with the savings of many Americans. Trophy startups like Pets.com, Webvan, and Excite@Home, avatars of the so-called New Economy, were punch lines. Disillusioned programmers and entrepreneurs were abandoning their Bay Area bedsits and decamping. Venture funding had dried up. As a business proposition, the information superhighway was looking like a cul-de-sac.
Today, less than 20 years on, everything has changed. The top American internet companies are among the most profitable and highly capitalized businesses in history. Not only do they dominate the technology industry but they have much of the world economy in their grip. Their founders and early backers sit atop Rockefeller-sized fortunes. Cities and states court them with billions of dollars in tax breaks and other subsidies. Bright young graduates covet their jobs. Along with their financial clout, the internet giants hold immense social and cultural sway, influencing how all of us think, act, and converse.
Silicon Valley’s Phoenix-like resurrection is a story of ingenuity and initiative. It is also a story of callousness, predation, and deceit. …