Over the past seven days, no fewer than two outlets pronounced death on San Francisco’s “anti-tech movement.” At SF Gate, Kristen V. Brown writes, “San Francisco’s antitech movement, it appears, has fizzled before it ever really took off.”
Then Rachel Balik weighed in at the Bold Italic: “It seems safe to assume that the anti-tech movement has drawn to a close, with people focusing more now on criticizing individual companies and leaders for specific misdeeds instead of slamming the industry as a whole.”
As evidence for the movement’s demise, each writer cites diminished turnouts at demonstrations and a wider public acceptance that, contrary to the facile narrative put forth by blogs like Valleywag, city officials and outdated statutes are as much to blame for the ballooning cost of living in San Francisco as tech companies. What’s more, some of the Bay Area’s most-criticized firms have made significant gestures of good will toward the broader community, expanding their philanthropic efforts and agreeing to pay taxes to use public Muni bus stops.
So does that mean the tensions between techies and the rest of the city are finally relieved? Or have protesters, faced with waning interest and a few key policy losses like the failure of Proposition G, given up?
The answer is complicated, namely because the term “anti-tech” movement is a major misnomer. In fact when Erin McElroy, founder of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and one of the most active participants in bus protests, came to our Don’t Be Awful event she took pains to say her organization is not “anti-tech.” In fact, technology plays a crucial role in the data visualizations she creates. She is, however, “anti-eviction,” “anti-police brutality,” “anti-surveillance,” and “anti-private-companies-using-public-resources-for-corporate-gain.”
That’s not to say there aren’t activists who are against all things digital, whether that means society’s addiction to smartphones or the tech industry’s complicity in the national surveillance apparatus. These people view “the tech industry” as some kind of vague, monolithic hivemind that must be destroyed.
But not all tech companies are created equal. Furthermore, even if you’re a pure socialist who submits that all for-profit corporations are insidious, you’d be foolish to think that these companies were never capable of doing good — or at least capable of being less evil. And finally, by letting an all-encompassing hatred of technology be the guiding light of a movement — as opposed to zeroing in on a few key issues — the group will be too unfocused and thus ineffective at enacting much real change. To call a movement something as broad as “anti-tech” is to ensure the same fizzled-out fate of the equally unfocused Occupy Wall Street set.
Meanwhile, look at what happens when protesters take highly targeted stances. Regardless of whether you believe protesters went too far in attacking Google Buses, the demonstrations were effective: As stated earlier, Google now pays taxes to use Muni stops and even donated $ 6.8 million to pay for Muni passes for lower income students. As Balik writes, “The Google bus protests actually resulted in positive action from tech companies.”
We need more of these focused protests, like the one asking Google to stand by the San Francisco community instead of by one of its lawyers who is using shady tactics to evict families. Or perhaps there could be a movement to compel tech firms to treat their less skilled workers better. That’s what the city needs, not empty complaints about how “the tech industry” or “tech workers” have ruined San Francisco.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]