Tim Ritchie

Sri Lanka:  what a fitting place to read about the growing fervor against Silicon Valley's tech companies. I was there last week as a part of a delegation to help create a national science center. Sri Lanka is doing all it can to overcome its long civil war.  Its leaders believe that prosperity lies in indigenous innovation fueled by science and technology. There are a growing number of young entrepreneurs who would love to do business with the likes of Google, Apple and Intel.

Quite the opposite view of tech companies is taking root here. Wealth disparities, fears about privacy and the gentrification of neighborhoods have angered people to the point where they feel justified in making personal attacks on people working for tech companies. Harassment is on the rise. Violence could be close at hand.

The anti-tech sentiment is short-sighted in a world that needs tech innovation to flourish. Without new technologies, we will not have enough water, power, healthcare or economic development to meet the needs of over seven billion people. So, we must safeguard the markets and celebrate the companies that bring us breathtaking innovations.  

On the other hand, the seeds of our own destruction lurk in the wealth created by our useful technologies.They might make us powerful and rich, but they won't make us wise or brave or generous or good. A society where people don't use their wealth to build a better community is a society that will be doomed by rising poverty and class warfare.

This could become the Bay Area's wake-up call, where an entire community learns that wealth is multiplied when it is shared. Imagine if this were to happen in the innovation capital of the world. It would be our finest innovation and greatest gift to countries like Sri Lanka which needs to both create a flourishing tech sector and wisely use the wealth it creates.  

In the end, the community we save will be our own.

With a Perspective, I'm Tim Ritchie.

Tim Ritchie is president of The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.

  • SemiDemiHaiku Nelson

    This essay was timely. I’m one of the SF residents feeling priced out of being able to rent a safe home in SF city limits – but agree the innovation is vital as well. I’ll be interested to see what others have to say.

  • I agree that tech innovation is tremendously valuable for us and can lead to better lives. So we just need to find a better way to organize the economy so that the result if this innovation is not the kind of gross inequality that eats at the heart of so many under-developed countries of the world. We need to consider ideas like a Basic Income or a Negative Income Tax that ensure that no one is left destitute. I’m also hopeful that a place as forward-thinking and innovative as the Bay Area could lead the way in that crucial change.

  • Knuss

    It is not fair or wise to attack people for working hard and successfully at creating innovation. Innovators have made our community an extraordinary place to live and work, and have had a profound positive impact on society at large. We would be foolish to punish them or push them away.

    But there is a fundamental difference between building and taking. When those who have acquired wealth or power claim the mantle of “job creators” to favor funding tax cuts over unemployment benefits, I believe a line has been crossed. Objections to the effect of the law of supply and demand on real estate prices do not have the same moral standing, and don’t justify the same response.

    Yes, it would be wonderful for people who have done well to do more to make the world a better place. But the current debate obscures a critical difference. It may be fine for the free market to set the price of a mansion, but not the price of going hungry.

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