March 13, 2017

DUGGAL | Technologically Shook

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I have hit the point in the semester where I could not bring myself to care less about things even if I tried. I thought I hit that point two weeks ago; unfortunately, I was wrong, and here I am, eating ice cream out of a tub in the middle of Klarman Atrium. I can feel even the statues frowning at my life decisions.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a horrific column on something related to technology and how people make it out to be worse than it is and why that was a narrow way to look at a complex topic, especially one that is not going anywhere just by having us wish it away. Quite frankly, I hated it, and I would like to apologize to anyone who’s eyes might have perused those particular set of words. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t agree with what I had written — I very strongly believe that we tend to classify what is online as unreal and what is tangible in our lives as real, and in that lies our fallacy in understanding the role of technology in our lives today. However, that is nowhere near a complete picture of how I believe tech interacts with our lives today.

As a columnist, I always struggle with raising topics up again that I have already spoken to in the past. I don’t believe I have actually ever done it, not necessarily because I don’t believe you shouldn’t be able to address the same issue twice, but because I have found other questions to occupy my mind and subsequently my place in The Sun’s opinion section every other week. There are two topics, however, I know I will address multiple times over the course of the last two semesters I have left with The Sun: technology and makeup. I’ve written articles on both before, but I’m just not done talking about them.

This week, however, we are re-addressing tech. Trust me, I wanted to bring up make up again, but given how literally SHOOK I am from Cornell Fashion Week, I need at least a week to recover before I may contribute well formed opinions about the week on campus (stay tuned, shameless pitching will never end). I ended up deciding to expand on some thoughts I hold about tech today after a recent conversation with a friend.

“Given the choice to work at Airbnb, Snapchat or Uber, where would you work?”

Let me begin by first stating that should I ever be choosing between such options, someone please remind me to pinch myself and then proceed to enjoy several wine nights with friends. Also to attempt to negotiate for as much as I possibly can before they realize I do not deserve these offers and rescind them immediately.

After all that has occurred, I believe I would be inclined to choose Airbnb. “Why?” asked my friend. “Well, because I like their values,” I slowly replied.

Their values. I chose Airbnb as my tech workplace of choice because I liked that their Superbowl ad and their recent stance against transphobic homeowners demonstrated a progressive trend in their company values. What a strange reason to choose a company, I thought to myself.

After having given it a couple days of thought, I don’t actually believe it was that strange of me to choose a company based on its values at all. But a part of me does question how fair it was: is it right to hold a company in either high or low regard based on their values or the values of their leadership?

Take, for example, Uber. Their CEO, Travis Kalanick, has had an interesting year in the limelight. First, he decided to sit on the Trump Advisory Council, a move that did not sit well with Silicon Valley, tech elites and the entirety of Twitter (#deleteuber, anyone?). Public outrage might have prompted Kalanick to step down, however, his woes did not end there. A viral blog post by a former female Uber engineer relayed stories of rampant sexual harassment and HR nightmares within the company. Days later, NPR reported that Waymo, the origin of Google’s self-driving car project, had filed to sue Uber over claims that “thousands of design files that had been inappropriately downloaded from [Waymo] servers.”

Oh, and this is all in addition to the criticism Uber and its  business model already faces for its labor abuses. My point here is not to outline simply the ways in which Uber is the worst. In fact, you could even argue that for all of Airbnb’s great “company values,” their business model contributes to an increase in negative wealth distribution and feeds into greater income equality within the American economy.

My point, rather, is to highlight that as nice as it is to profile Silicon Valley startups by the value they and their top executives seem to promote, it is not entirely accurate. We must recognize that even companies that strive to create atmospheres of diversity and acceptance are susceptible to the same vices as many other tech companies share — the lack of women in their workforce, contributions to a greater economic disparity not only within Silicon Valley, but throughout the nation (Uber and Airbnb are two very fitting examples). It is important to make progress and recognize the progress that is being made, yes. But it is just as important to continue creating room for more opportunities, more inclusion and less division.

 

Hebani Duggal is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at hduggal@cornellsun.com. Teach Me How to Duggal appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.