Beyond the Valley
How Innovators around the World are Overcoming Inequality and Creating the Technologies of Tomorrow
420 pp., 6 x 9 in, 30 b&w illus.
- Published: September 1, 2020
- Published: October 29, 2019
- Published: October 4, 2019
How to repair the disconnect between designers and users, producers and consumers, and tech elites and the rest of us: toward a more democratic internet.
In this provocative book, Ramesh Srinivasan describes the internet as both an enabler of frictionless efficiency and a dirty tangle of politics, economics, and other inefficient, inharmonious human activities. We may love the immediacy of Google search results, the convenience of buying from Amazon, and the elegance and power of our Apple devices, but it's a one-way, top-down process. We're not asked for our input, or our opinions—only for our data. The internet is brought to us by wealthy technologists in Silicon Valley and China. It's time, Srinivasan argues, that we think in terms beyond the Valley.
Srinivasan focuses on the disconnection he sees between designers and users, producers and consumers, and tech elites and the rest of us. The recent Cambridge Analytica and Russian misinformation scandals exemplify the imbalance of a digital world that puts profits before inclusivity and democracy. In search of a more democratic internet, Srinivasan takes us to the mountains of Oaxaca, East and West Africa, China, Scandinavia, North America, and elsewhere, visiting the “design labs” of rural, low-income, and indigenous people around the world. He talks to a range of high-profile public figures—including Elizabeth Warren, David Axelrod, Eric Holder, Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Lessig, and the founders of Reddit, as well as community organizers, labor leaders, and human rights activists.. To make a better internet, Srinivasan says, we need a new ethic of diversity, openness, and inclusivity, empowering those now excluded from decisions about how technologies are designed, who profits from them, and who are surveilled and exploited by them.
Beyond the Valley shows how we got to a place where a few big tech companies pull the strings and the rest of us work on command, without a secure future. Like the Green New Deal, it also shows us a way out, toward a digital new deal where we can reclaim the power and shape a world that includes us all. Read this book for its compelling vision of digital economy that provides decent work, wages, and justice for everyone.
Van Jones, CEO of REFORM Alliance; Host of The Redemption Project and The Van Jones Show on CNN
It sounds almost quaint to talk about privacy, fairness, and credible information these days. So it goes when Silicon Valley designs things for the rest of us based on what they think is important and cool—and profitable for them. What would it look like to turn the tables? Let's give the users control over the way algorithms and design choices are optimized. If you're tired of the surveillance, bias, and propaganda that are warping our world, read this book to see how things can be different.
Cathy O'Neil, CEO of ORCAA; author of Weapons of Math Destruction
In my work with Black Lives Matter, I have seen the power of people, and communities, and technology working together to support the aims of justice, equity, and diversity. So why do we assume we must accept surveillance-driven systems, low-paying crowd work, and racist algorithms? Beyond the Valley shows that there is nothing inevitable about the technology we have. Let's reach for something better.
Patrisse Cullors, Cofounder of Black Lives Matter Global Network
Readers of this brilliant book will discover that the sources of digital innovation today can be found across the world, with many technologies of the future coming from rural places. From Mexico to East Africa, people are using technology to solve problems and improve lives—without help from Silicon Valley or China. Beyond the Valley offers a vision for a digital world that places diversity front and center.
Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico; founder of Centro Fox
Great reporting from around the developing world reminds us how blinkered our view of digital technology really is—this book will expand your thinking about how we might make these networks work for us (and about the realms of human life we need to shield from them).
Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?; founder, 350.org
For an industry that deliberately keeps the focus off of its negative effects, Srinivasan's work is a necessary intervention and critique, while also shining a light on those working to come up with solutions to counteract the pitfalls of a technologically focused world.
The book's title belies its fierce politics: like Sanders, Srinivasan believes that massive tech companies have grown unaccountably powerful and must be confronted, not courted and appeased as the Democratic Party establishment has done for decades.