Silicon Valley can be viewed as the embodiment of modern technological innovation, and from this, we have seen exponential growth in both unicorns and black swans. These notions can be linked to the social, political, and economic ideals that the major tech firms have perpetuated into modern society. Professor Nicholas Taleb coined the term Unicorns as; a start-up business with a stock market value of at least 1 billion dollars (Howard E. Aldrich and Martin Ruef et al., 2018). Black Swans are extremely rare events that have the potential to perpetuate severe consequences on the market and investments. (Team, 2022). The culture of Silicon Valley is complex in nature, due to its growing power in the modern world major tech firms have become closely aligned with politics as they have the power to influence and shape political views. Although being founded on ideals that made are independent of government regulations and control, Silicon Valley has become highly intertwined with politics due to these companies’ abilities to disseminate political information. Furthermore, the economic ideals that shape the culture of Silicon Valley are centred around a sharing economy. This sharing economy has completely disrupted the traditional economic system and has been a point of controversy over time. Finally, the cultural homogeneity that is prevalent in Silicon Valley, consisting of mostly white and upper to middle-class males has resulted in a severe lack of diversity and garnered damaging attention to the companies situated in the valley. The culture that surrounds Silicon Valley is highly complex, it has produced black swans and unicorns while also being highly interconnected with political, economic, and societal ideals that are prevalent today.
Silicon Valley was initially founded on ideals of idealism and libertarianism, free from political and governmental constraints. The initial conception of the internet was a digital environment where users would have the right to free speech. However, as the major tech firms have gained power exponentially, they play a significant role in politics and the dissemination of political ideals. In the USA, most major tech firms have positioned themselves in alignment with the democratic party, with tech CEOs being some of the most prominent supporters of the party. In the 2012 US presidential election, 83% of employee donations from the largest tech firms went to the Obama campaign (Guardian and News Media, 2015). The founders of major tech start-ups represent primarily libertarian ideology, viewing the government as “an investor in citizens, rather than as a protector from capitalism.” (Guardian, 2021). Furthermore, they believe that the government should “embrace the unforgiving meritocracy of capitalism by operating like a high-tech company…” (Guardian and News Media, 2015). At the beginning of the development of the internet, the open and free culture that was aiming to free its users from bureaucracy essentially allowed for methods of prejudice that governments were meant to prevent (Lusoli & Turner, 2020). Silicon Valley political ideals are a unique combination of idealism and libertarianism rather than aligning exactly with pre-existing political parties. This has allowed them to act as a neutral party in some sense, however, has also positioned them as a key player in major political campaigns. Political censorship was evident in the Biden election, where Silicon Valley banned pre-election reporting about the Biden Family on the app Parler, “denouncing and deleting multiple posts from the US president… and the removal of right-wing accounts…” (Greenwald, 2021). Overall, the culture of Silicon Valley has been shaped by its complex and intertwined relationship with politics.
“Steve Jobs and Scott Jordan, Silicon Valley Comic Con, 2016” by Thomas Hawk is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Furthermore, Silicon Valley has a dominant social culture, with this comprising predominately white and middle to upper-class males. Contextually, in a Post War environment, society was desperate for any form of regeneration and change. In the 1960s, the commune movement in America saw the desire for a collaborative work style and a push for technological advancement and an environment free from politics (Lusoli & Turner, 2020). These communes were predominantly white males. This dynamic has continued into the modern-day Silicon Valley culture; the domination of this hetero-normative culture has seemingly ‘pushed’ out any other inhabitants of the area (Lusoli & Turner, 2020). The lack of diversity in Silicon Valley has garnered significant attention, highlighting the ‘Digital Divide’ that has limited opportunities for minority groups to be a part of the culture of Silicon Valley (Fletcher, 2000). In the United States, African American and Hispanic communities have been most significantly disadvantaged. The advent of Silicon Valley and this new digital economy achieved major success after the worst periods of racial discrimination in the USA, and hence, many major tech firms feel little to no responsibility to aid minority groups (Fletcher, 2000). African Americans make up 8% of the labour force in the San Francisco Bay area, however, only comprise 4% of the high-tech workforce. Similarly, Hispanic people make up 14% of the labour force in this area, yet only account for 7% of the high-tech labour force (Fletcher, 2000). Out of the 150 tech firms in Silicon Valley, there is only one African American chief operating officer: John Thompson of Symantec Corp (Fletcher, 2000). The strong sense of cultural homogeneity that is evident in Silicon Valley has shaped most of the social ideas associated with the companies and leaders within.
“Digital Economy”, By Sun Zom is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
The economic ideology that has arisen out of Silicon Valley has completely altered traditional economics, and hence further shapes the complex culture of Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley produced approximately 128 308 per capita in their annual gross domestic product, with the total output being 275 billion USD (Guardian and News Media, 2015). However, this has contributed to the severe maldistribution of wealth in the area. Co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Whales stated “I believe in the elimination of borders and free commerce as a route to peace. Barriers necessarily imply violence” (Guardian and News Media, 2015). The term ‘Sharing economy’ has become increasingly mainstream, as a result of the seemingly endless boom of companies that are generating significant profit from this new economic (de Kloet et al., 2019). Digital platforms create economic value for the owners of these platforms by producing content based on “the asymmetric distribution of power between those who control capital and the rest of society.” (Mansell & Steinmeuller, 2020). Some of today’s most successful unicorns that have come out of Silicon Valley include Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber. Namely, Airbnb does not own the properties that it lists on its platform. This business model benefits greatly from the platform-sharing economy as the model offers benefits to its consumers who are in some cases, hosts and guests. However, a platform-sharing economy holds a very complex relationship with capitalism (Tumer Kabadayi et al., 2021). The anticapitalism perspective sees the sharing economy as altruistic while the hyper-capitalist perspective believes ‘sweating’ an asset is appropriate to be most profitable (de Kloet et al., 2019). There is further criticism around platform-sharing economies and contemporary capitalism as these platforms encourage citizen participation ethically and transparently, they enable the “datafication and commodification of social relations by collecting… and selling user data.” (de Kloet et al., 2019). The economic ideas that have come out of Silicon Valley have been significant in reshaping traditional economics and have produced various unicorns and black swans.
Silicon Valley is home to some of the world’s most succ
essful and innovative companies, producing both unicorns and black swans. From this, a unique culture has developed in Silicon Valley, comprising a range of complex political, social and economic ideologies.
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