Big Tech must do better

Sree Sreenivasan is a leading expert on how technology is changing our lives. He is a professor of Digital Innovation and CEO of Digimentors.
Liberal Opinion

Sree Sreenivasan

Digital Innovation Prof, Stony Brook; CoFounder, Digimentors
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Big Tech is failing us in a big way. Companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google launched with enormous goals and plans to change the world, and in many cases, they have, but the pandemic has shown us the true colors of these tech giants. Yes, technology kept the world turning on many levels as Zoom and Google Meet kept us connected at school, work, and socially. Many benefitted from those measures, however, countless people have suffered and still are as a result of this worldwide crisis. We need Big Tech to step up to work on these big problems.

Hi, I’m Sree Sreenivasan, and I talk about politics, technology and more. Today, I’m going to share some thoughts on big tech, those who fantasize that they can fix everything through technology as well as tell you that a lot of this comes down in the end – like so much else- to money.  

We’ve all heard the slogans before:

“Don’t be evil”

“Connect the world”

“Democratize information” 

Big tech’s lofty goals for the future of the connected world ran aground on the shores of reality when the pandemic hit.

The last few years have produced a healthy amount of tech-skepticism that was harder to come by in, say, 2010. Back then, Big Tech was going to change the world — and it did in so many ways. But, the pandemic has laid bare the limits of putting our hopes, and health, in the hands of the private sector.

Of course, without Big Tech, it’s likely that the economy of the entire world would have come to a complete standstill. Schools at all levels ran on video conferencing technology for a year, and many are back to it. Most businesses are no different. 

But so much of that innovation — a loose usage of the term, to be sure — was essentially one giant stopgap. 

In fact, the data shows that people worked longer hours during the pandemic. It’s almost like we replaced the commute with more time spent on calls, email, and Slack. And that’s for the folks who were lucky enough to be working remotely.  

Having more flexibility about when we get into work on any given day is a good thing, and I hope that employers adopt, or maintain, such an approach when things return to whatever “normal” turns out to be.

At our company Digimentors I signed a pledge called “Work remotely forever pledge”.  That doesn’t say we’ll never have an office.  It just says we’ll never force you to work in an office if you don’t want to.

The fact is that the pandemic made some people enormously wealthy, drove huge valuations, and produced technology that made it easier to connect. But it did not do much to inspire faith in the systems. “Don’t be evil” sounds perfectly fine in a press release, but I’d rather see these corporate giants put their sizable reserves of cash and talent towards being active, positive forces for good.  Empathetic even.

Where were Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others when the U.S. was struggling to roll out the vaccines?  And we know that the Facebook oversight board kicked into a higher gear AFTER the platform was used to plan the January 6th insurrection. 

Where is the accountability for the harsh warehouse conditions that lead to sickness, burnout, and even death? 

They are all nonexistent. Instead, we have steadily-rising stock prices and business leaders that seem anything but empathetic.  

We need our leaders to be better and it’s up to us as the consumer — to hold them accountable.


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