Silicon Valley headed for political trouble?

Andrew Feinberg, Editor, Capitol Valley Media

Talking with Andrew Feinberg, editor of Capitol Valley Media, I was challenged several times about why I, other tech bloggers, and why Silicon Valley itself doesn’t get involved more in what’s happening in Washington D.C.

Politics and geeks rarely mix. Geeks want to build stuff. Politicians want to serve their constituencies and, often, that means regulating what the geeks are trying to do.

A child gets harmed due to meeting someone unsavory on MySpace or Facebook? Andrew sees regulation ahead and he says it doesn’t have to be that way, if Silicon Valley gets involved in politics.

Feinberg tells a nightmarish story where we lose access to an open Internet thanks to the corrupting influence of money from big companies like Comcast. Already companies like Comcast and Verizon are starting to put limits on how you can use the Internet from their services.

Why did that happen? Because we don’t care.

Andrew started down this path by watching what tech bloggers were reporting on. He very rarely saw us talk about politics. Most bloggers he meets, he tells me, don’t know who the FCC Chairman is. Or, have ever had a conversation with him or his staffs.

And bloggers here are just a reflection of the tech world itself. When we get together at BarCamps or FOOCamps we would rather talk about robotics, brain research, genetics, algorithms, or other geeky topics.

Politics? Ugh.

I’m planning a trip to Washington with Andrew to fill in my own gaps on these topics. Anyone want to come along? Probably will happen in June or July. Anyone want to help get us access to key decision makers?

There’s another guy who is changing my thinking on these topics and focusing my attention: Larry Lessig. It’s pretty clear that he’s going to run for Congress. His blog is a must-read, it’s an interesting look at politics from one of Silicon Valley’s leading thinkers.

But back to Andrew. He thinks there’s a ton of trouble coming, especially for social networking companies like Facebook because they simply aren’t focusing on defusing political pressure from concerns around privacy and security of our kids.

He also told me that he doesn’t see a single lobbying organization that speaks for the tech industry as a whole. Who is looking out for, say, Twitter or Facebook’s interests in Washington? Or, our interests? He doesn’t see anyone and he sees that we’re going to get screwed over the next few years as big companies are going to come after our ability to have access to a free and largely unregulated Internet.

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Comments

  1. Tech geeks are largely uninvolved in politics because society at large is largely uninvolved in politics. There’s nothing better than politics to make you feel helpless and uninformed. What could be more diametrically opposed to politics than the tech culture? Politics is all backroom meetings and spin control where blogging is all about transparency and openness. Politics is all about who you know where technology is a meritocracy. Does the lack of involvement hurt? Sure. One of the reasons why dinosaurs like the telephone companies (and cable companies) still exist is that they’re very good at lobbying and engaging in politics. Hopefully the tech industry will get involved enough in politics to promote the interests of techies and bloggers before it’s too late and the big, bad, important decisions are made.

  2. Tech geeks are largely uninvolved in politics because society at large is largely uninvolved in politics. There’s nothing better than politics to make you feel helpless and uninformed. What could be more diametrically opposed to politics than the tech culture? Politics is all backroom meetings and spin control where blogging is all about transparency and openness. Politics is all about who you know where technology is a meritocracy. Does the lack of involvement hurt? Sure. One of the reasons why dinosaurs like the telephone companies (and cable companies) still exist is that they’re very good at lobbying and engaging in politics. Hopefully the tech industry will get involved enough in politics to promote the interests of techies and bloggers before it’s too late and the big, bad, important decisions are made.

  3. I believe Google hired a political lobbing firm, in DC to help them. They tried to do it without, and then decided they needed “insiders” to assist them with different areas. (Although I don’t specifically remember what the potential problem was when they hired them. I think it was over privacy in not wanting to turn over their search records when the government was claiming porn sites where in results for things kids would search for.)

    http://pulse2.com/2006/09/17/google-hires-political-lobbying-firm-dci-group/
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0107/2438.html

  4. I believe Google hired a political lobbing firm, in DC to help them. They tried to do it without, and then decided they needed “insiders” to assist them with different areas. (Although I don’t specifically remember what the potential problem was when they hired them. I think it was over privacy in not wanting to turn over their search records when the government was claiming porn sites where in results for things kids would search for.)

    http://pulse2.com/2006/09/17/google-hires-political-lobbying-firm-dci-group/
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0107/2438.html

  5. Politics involves getting permission to do things, and even /say/ things (‘towing the party line’). That’s the opposite of what’s going on in tech and the internet.

    Tech people are intelligent but often lack interest in social things. Politics is all social that often lacks intelligence.

  6. Politics involves getting permission to do things, and even /say/ things (‘towing the party line’). That’s the opposite of what’s going on in tech and the internet.

    Tech people are intelligent but often lack interest in social things. Politics is all social that often lacks intelligence.

  7. The problem with Silicon Valley Tech A-list people and their dumb followers is the fact that like goldfish in a bowl what they write and comment on is quickly forgotten.

    What happened on Techcrunch or Techmeme today is quickly forgotten tomorrow. So basically Robert and I are goldfish in a small irrelevant bowl talking crap that no one will remember tomorrow.

    Next week this post will be irrelevant and my comment totally pointless and in less than a decade so will you and your A-list buddies.

  8. The problem with Silicon Valley Tech A-list people and their dumb followers is the fact that like goldfish in a bowl what they write and comment on is quickly forgotten.

    What happened on Techcrunch or Techmeme today is quickly forgotten tomorrow. So basically Robert and I are goldfish in a small irrelevant bowl talking crap that no one will remember tomorrow.

    Next week this post will be irrelevant and my comment totally pointless and in less than a decade so will you and your A-list buddies.

  9. The problem is that these “non-social” people have created what has become a massively social medium and a corresponding industry with all the problems of real-life industries, but because they don’t get these “social” parts of it (i.e. politics) they’ll eventually be hurt by people that do. So, either learn and adapt (which I believe tech people are more than capable of doing) or the you’ll end up like a bunch of Maryland crabs: whenever someone climbs to the top and tries to escape, someone reaches up and claws him back down.

    Cheers.

  10. The problem is that these “non-social” people have created what has become a massively social medium and a corresponding industry with all the problems of real-life industries, but because they don’t get these “social” parts of it (i.e. politics) they’ll eventually be hurt by people that do. So, either learn and adapt (which I believe tech people are more than capable of doing) or the you’ll end up like a bunch of Maryland crabs: whenever someone climbs to the top and tries to escape, someone reaches up and claws him back down.

    Cheers.

  11. For those that are interested, the Politics Online Conference is March 4-5 in DC. For all the geeks that are getting interested in politics, it’s a great event.

  12. For those that are interested, the Politics Online Conference is March 4-5 in DC. For all the geeks that are getting interested in politics, it’s a great event.

  13. there are organizations that represent the “tech industry” in DC. TechNet being one of the most notable. (They are 10 years old and founded by Chambers, Doerr, Barksdale, etc).

    however, it is true that the Web 2.0 crowd (for lack of the better term) are still primarily playing in their own policy sandboxes. Soon, I am sure that there will be groups representing the interests of online video companies, social networking firms, behavioral marketers, etc.

    But, as is this industry’s nature, it will take a forceful kick in the pants before this happens.

    TechNet didn’t get started until Bill Lerach (now in jail) started suing half the valley on flimsy shareholder lawsuits. The industry needed a vehicle to fight these suits in Congress, and voila.

    TechNet (and AEA, ITAA, etc) have enjoined some battles of the new guard’s behalf in state capitols (which are equally important as DC), but for whatever reason, it has mostly been the “think tanks” like the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Progress and Freedom Foundation and others who have taken on issues that impact 2.0+.

    Please note that there is an important distinction between getting engaged in tech policy and being a techie that gets involved with politics. But, I can save that for another comment.

    btw, my firm communications consultancy with a specialization in tech policy. And, I blogs on the issues.

  14. there are organizations that represent the “tech industry” in DC. TechNet being one of the most notable. (They are 10 years old and founded by Chambers, Doerr, Barksdale, etc).

    however, it is true that the Web 2.0 crowd (for lack of the better term) are still primarily playing in their own policy sandboxes. Soon, I am sure that there will be groups representing the interests of online video companies, social networking firms, behavioral marketers, etc.

    But, as is this industry’s nature, it will take a forceful kick in the pants before this happens.

    TechNet didn’t get started until Bill Lerach (now in jail) started suing half the valley on flimsy shareholder lawsuits. The industry needed a vehicle to fight these suits in Congress, and voila.

    TechNet (and AEA, ITAA, etc) have enjoined some battles of the new guard’s behalf in state capitols (which are equally important as DC), but for whatever reason, it has mostly been the “think tanks” like the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Progress and Freedom Foundation and others who have taken on issues that impact 2.0+.

    Please note that there is an important distinction between getting engaged in tech policy and being a techie that gets involved with politics. But, I can save that for another comment.

    btw, my firm communications consultancy with a specialization in tech policy. And, I blogs on the issues.

  15. Google hired a lobyest not a very good one then :-) when your the 600lb gorrila with a dominant position in your bit oif teh industry what you dont do is atsrt talking about compeition issues with microhoo you STF up

    Robert I can get you a few contacts in the UK I know there Chair of the All Party Telecoms Group.

  16. Google hired a lobyest not a very good one then :-) when your the 600lb gorrila with a dominant position in your bit oif teh industry what you dont do is atsrt talking about compeition issues with microhoo you STF up

    Robert I can get you a few contacts in the UK I know there Chair of the All Party Telecoms Group.

  17. I see these as all huge problems, and as a college student interested HUGELY in both tech AND policy / politics, I want to help change things… I am very interdisciplinary and focused where tech / science overlap with politics, something that I wish more people in D.C. were! I’ve so far applied to do a lot in D.C. but don’t know how things will turn out, still working on it. If successful, I’d be in D.C. when you’d be thinking of going, so definitely let me know. I’m really eager to go back after working in the Senate last spring with some really fantastic people.

  18. I see these as all huge problems, and as a college student interested HUGELY in both tech AND policy / politics, I want to help change things… I am very interdisciplinary and focused where tech / science overlap with politics, something that I wish more people in D.C. were! I’ve so far applied to do a lot in D.C. but don’t know how things will turn out, still working on it. If successful, I’d be in D.C. when you’d be thinking of going, so definitely let me know. I’m really eager to go back after working in the Senate last spring with some really fantastic people.

  19. As someone who does study politics and has known and interacted with a number of politicians I have a few responses to this.

    Firstly, you will be hard pressed to find many politicians in D.C. who actually understand the technology. It’s hard to talk passionately to someone who has no idea what you are talking about. Most politicians come from legal backgrounds, not scientific or technological. Those that do come from tech backgrounds? Seek out the information themselves. Those that don’t seldom have any desire to understand it – but will legislate based on what sounds good to their constituents.
    In that case, it’s not the politicians you need to win over, but the old media.

    “Andrew started down this path by watching what tech bloggers were reporting on. He very rarely saw us talk about politics. Most bloggers he meets, he tells me, don’t know who the FCC Chairman is. Or, have ever had a conversation with him or his staffs.”

    Is this supposed to be surprising? Political bloggers blog about politics – tech bloggers blog about tech. It’s not that there’s a dearth of people blogging politics – it’s that we bloggers tend to niche ourselves because that’s what garners an audience.

    If I want technology & politics cross-talk, I’ll go look on slashdot – it’s a matter of audience.
    You wouldn’t go read a bunch of children’s literature authors and then complain that they aren’t addressing a different audience, would you?

    Everything is interconnected – but not every blog needs to be every thing.

    I hope you learn what you want to on your trip to D.C. but I think that you (or perhaps Andrew Feinberg?) are a little off base talking about “geeks” as being “non-political” strictly because tech bloggers don’t blog about politics.

  20. As someone who does study politics and has known and interacted with a number of politicians I have a few responses to this.

    Firstly, you will be hard pressed to find many politicians in D.C. who actually understand the technology. It’s hard to talk passionately to someone who has no idea what you are talking about. Most politicians come from legal backgrounds, not scientific or technological. Those that do come from tech backgrounds? Seek out the information themselves. Those that don’t seldom have any desire to understand it – but will legislate based on what sounds good to their constituents.
    In that case, it’s not the politicians you need to win over, but the old media.

    “Andrew started down this path by watching what tech bloggers were reporting on. He very rarely saw us talk about politics. Most bloggers he meets, he tells me, don’t know who the FCC Chairman is. Or, have ever had a conversation with him or his staffs.”

    Is this supposed to be surprising? Political bloggers blog about politics – tech bloggers blog about tech. It’s not that there’s a dearth of people blogging politics – it’s that we bloggers tend to niche ourselves because that’s what garners an audience.

    If I want technology & politics cross-talk, I’ll go look on slashdot – it’s a matter of audience.
    You wouldn’t go read a bunch of children’s literature authors and then complain that they aren’t addressing a different audience, would you?

    Everything is interconnected – but not every blog needs to be every thing.

    I hope you learn what you want to on your trip to D.C. but I think that you (or perhaps Andrew Feinberg?) are a little off base talking about “geeks” as being “non-political” strictly because tech bloggers don’t blog about politics.

  21. As you may recall, we discussed this briefly at VON in San Jose last year. I started blogging so folks that love wireless can see what the lawmakers are doing on wireless policy.

    The wireless industry doesn’t have the heavy-handed regs that the wireline companies have. The result has been good for consumers and companies. However, many lawmakers think mobile phones just make calls and they only know the old circuit-switched days and common carrier regulation…

    Best, Chris
    http://www.mobilediner.com/

  22. As you may recall, we discussed this briefly at VON in San Jose last year. I started blogging so folks that love wireless can see what the lawmakers are doing on wireless policy.

    The wireless industry doesn’t have the heavy-handed regs that the wireline companies have. The result has been good for consumers and companies. However, many lawmakers think mobile phones just make calls and they only know the old circuit-switched days and common carrier regulation…

    Best, Chris
    http://www.mobilediner.com/

  23. If you must know, I don’t think “geeks” are non-political, being one myself.

    If you doubt my cred, I was a Debian developer last century. I know the culture. I also know Washington. It bugs me that Silicon Valley can’t get DC to work for them, considering how important the tech community and economy are to the overall health of the national economy.

    My (well, our, since it’s a two man operation) blog is technology policy through the eyes of a geek who’s gotten himself a historical and political education instead of just staying in the “geek box.”

    Please email me if you want to chat further. My email address is on the website.

  24. If you must know, I don’t think “geeks” are non-political, being one myself.

    If you doubt my cred, I was a Debian developer last century. I know the culture. I also know Washington. It bugs me that Silicon Valley can’t get DC to work for them, considering how important the tech community and economy are to the overall health of the national economy.

    My (well, our, since it’s a two man operation) blog is technology policy through the eyes of a geek who’s gotten himself a historical and political education instead of just staying in the “geek box.”

    Please email me if you want to chat further. My email address is on the website.

  25. Uh-oh. Now I see where this Twittering stuff has come from.

    Fascinating that “getting involved in politics” translates as “getting involved in politics from an extreme leftwing position”.

    Lessig??? Do you care about intellectual property and copyright, Robert? Why would you embrace a controversial figure like Lessig so uncritically?!

    Verizon hasn’t stopped service. My God, I use it for Second Life, World of Warcraft, movies, never have a problem. What is this scare-mongering about net neutrality, that hinges its advocacy on such outright falsehoods?

    Andrew sounds to me like he’s trying to amp up his networking cred by painting scary pictures of things not really happening. Where is the regulation of which he speaks? Second Life’s gang all just testified happily in Congress with a very tech-friendly VW-friendly social-media friendly Ed Markey presiding over the fluffball questions.

    How can you get on Twitter, Robert, and say you are just going to learn, when what’s happened here is that this guy Andrew has somehow guilt-tripped you or nagged you into thinking you must drop everything and go and do *advocacy for your interest groups*.

    That’s fine — do that. But don’t pretend it’s about “building a bridge between technology and politics” or “learning” when in fact you and Andrew already have heavily determined views about issues like net neutrality or regulation of social media on issues like privacy.

    Here’s the thing: either Silicon Valley *is* headed for political trouble *and that’s a good thing*. it is far too arrogant and heedless of issues like the MySpace suicide or game addiction or even net congestion by heavy users of free services, not to mention the issues around China, Inc. — and it’s really overdue for a wake-up call from the rest of America on just out of touch it has gotten.

    Or, just the opposite (I’m afraid) — Silicon is taking the tools it is making, injecting its leftist ideology into them, and lurching off to engage in “regime change” in Washington.

    Sigh.

    http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/04/prokofy-scoblei.html

  26. Uh-oh. Now I see where this Twittering stuff has come from.

    Fascinating that “getting involved in politics” translates as “getting involved in politics from an extreme leftwing position”.

    Lessig??? Do you care about intellectual property and copyright, Robert? Why would you embrace a controversial figure like Lessig so uncritically?!

    Verizon hasn’t stopped service. My God, I use it for Second Life, World of Warcraft, movies, never have a problem. What is this scare-mongering about net neutrality, that hinges its advocacy on such outright falsehoods?

    Andrew sounds to me like he’s trying to amp up his networking cred by painting scary pictures of things not really happening. Where is the regulation of which he speaks? Second Life’s gang all just testified happily in Congress with a very tech-friendly VW-friendly social-media friendly Ed Markey presiding over the fluffball questions.

    How can you get on Twitter, Robert, and say you are just going to learn, when what’s happened here is that this guy Andrew has somehow guilt-tripped you or nagged you into thinking you must drop everything and go and do *advocacy for your interest groups*.

    That’s fine — do that. But don’t pretend it’s about “building a bridge between technology and politics” or “learning” when in fact you and Andrew already have heavily determined views about issues like net neutrality or regulation of social media on issues like privacy.

    Here’s the thing: either Silicon Valley *is* headed for political trouble *and that’s a good thing*. it is far too arrogant and heedless of issues like the MySpace suicide or game addiction or even net congestion by heavy users of free services, not to mention the issues around China, Inc. — and it’s really overdue for a wake-up call from the rest of America on just out of touch it has gotten.

    Or, just the opposite (I’m afraid) — Silicon is taking the tools it is making, injecting its leftist ideology into them, and lurching off to engage in “regime change” in Washington.

    Sigh.

    http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2008/04/prokofy-scoblei.html

  27. Not to beat our own drum, but it seems relevant to this discussion to point out that GamePolitics has been focused squarely on the (abundant) politics of the video game sector since the site went live in March, 2005.

  28. Not to beat our own drum, but it seems relevant to this discussion to point out that GamePolitics has been focused squarely on the (abundant) politics of the video game sector since the site went live in March, 2005.

  29. I’m moving to DC from Austin. I’m going to try to connect with the DC geeks scene and start co-working there. I’ll be glad to do my best to help you.I’ll even introduce you to some people in government. If we can get Texas college students on Twitter we can atleast get politician’s interns to join the network and sooner or later the politicians themselves. Once they are in place the information will flow like the Potomac.

    Advocacy is extremely important. Politicians will not act in your favor unless they know what your “favor” even means. Further they want to pay more attention to grass roots groups and large constituency than the big money. We are pushing for CEO’s to blog more, but really we should be getting politicians to blog. Once they realize the internet is not an information super-highway and more of a social media outlet they will start listening to comments on their blogs and paying attention to online polling (if reliable).

    You tech-geek-blogger-twitterati don’t realize the power you have over politics. You can drive a million voters to a website in one day. If the big media ever starts to analyze the geek effect on Obama the politicians will take note. Already the politicians are blogging and hiring tech and online pr consultants. Matt Drudge has captured the attention of every media and political staff in DC.

    Maybe the political campaigns already know this, but they are still waiting for the organizers and the groups to start calling, or in our case, start tweeting. Maybe Net neutrality isn’t the only thing geeks need to be fighting to save.

    http://summize.com/search?q=net+neutrality

  30. I’m moving to DC from Austin. I’m going to try to connect with the DC geeks scene and start co-working there. I’ll be glad to do my best to help you.I’ll even introduce you to some people in government. If we can get Texas college students on Twitter we can atleast get politician’s interns to join the network and sooner or later the politicians themselves. Once they are in place the information will flow like the Potomac.

    Advocacy is extremely important. Politicians will not act in your favor unless they know what your “favor” even means. Further they want to pay more attention to grass roots groups and large constituency than the big money. We are pushing for CEO’s to blog more, but really we should be getting politicians to blog. Once they realize the internet is not an information super-highway and more of a social media outlet they will start listening to comments on their blogs and paying attention to online polling (if reliable).

    You tech-geek-blogger-twitterati don’t realize the power you have over politics. You can drive a million voters to a website in one day. If the big media ever starts to analyze the geek effect on Obama the politicians will take note. Already the politicians are blogging and hiring tech and online pr consultants. Matt Drudge has captured the attention of every media and political staff in DC.

    Maybe the political campaigns already know this, but they are still waiting for the organizers and the groups to start calling, or in our case, start tweeting. Maybe Net neutrality isn’t the only thing geeks need to be fighting to save.

    http://summize.com/search?q=net+neutrality