Friday, 15 December 2017
Reviews

Secrets Of Silicon Valley review: All this world-changing stuff had terrible consequences


With its founding myths of Pilgrim Fathers, sacred sites like Capitol Hill and revered objects like the ‘Stars and Stripes’ flag, Bellah said America had invented a new, godless religion.

It worshipped America, American values and the American Dream, its heaven was one of hard work rewarded by consumer goods. Secrets Of Silicon Valley (Sunday, BBC2) might have had a less apocalyptic tone if its presenter, tech writer Jamie Bartlett, had seen Bellah’s article.

Much of what we saw last night, instead of suggesting some new, scary trend, was proof of something as old as the USA itself. In a nondescript Californian house called Rainbow Mansion, Bartlett found various burning-eyed young tech entrepreneurs, all working on world-changing start-ups.

Like the zealous followers of new churches, they barely blinked as they talked about reversing climate change and remodelling the planet.

In doing so they introduced the concept which, according to Bartlett, is at the centre of Silicon Valley’s gospel. ‘Disruption’ – global change resulting from canny inventions, tech creating the world rather than the world creating tech. In the garage at Rainbow Mansion, there were no cars. Echoing the founding stories (or myths) of tech titans like Apple and Microsoft, all the neat inventions had to be made in a garage.

Later, being shuttled around the secretive HQ of mega-concerns like Airbnb and Uber, Jamie glimpsed similar shrines such as the armchair where so-and-so had ‘the big idea’ or the sofa where the flatmates gathered round a laptop.

His bigger and undeniable point, was that all this world-changing stuff had terrible consequences.

In India, the slick marketing campaign of Uber was blamed for a glut of taxi drivers, resulting in falling earnings and more poverty for the already-poor.

Whilst presenting themselves as a new breed of idealistic Californian hippies, moreover, many giants of the Silicon Valley area seemed to be shamelessly dodging their tax bills. I’m not sure you do that if you want a better world. The here and now doesn’t matter to the most extreme tech prophets – but they’re not actually running Silicon Valley.

It’s funded by venture capitalists, who want maximum returns with minimum delays and don’t care whether the world changes or not, as long as they get paid. That pursuit of profit has been America’s credo since George Washington was in shorts.

Well, they called it Diana: In Her Own Words (Sunday, C4) and, as promised, it included video recordings the Princess of Wales made with her speech therapist.

Sometimes sad, sometimes peeping coyly through the fringe like a Roedean fifth former on her first date and often actually so mumbling and posh it wasn’t clear what she meant, Diana’s tapes provided a glimpse of the real person behind the myth.

They clearly functioned as therapy for the Princess and, as the footage and interviews suggested, helped her grow in confidence and self-assurance.

Whether they ought to have been shown to us is a matter for debate.

So, too, is whether it was worth doing, given how little they added to what we all knew, or could easily have imagined. 



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