Aside from labor negotiations, no one expects employees at big firms like General Motors or Coca-Cola to make much of a fuss. But at tech firms like Facebook and Google, it seems employees are embracing new political causes every other day, and dragging their companies into their activism whether executives approve or not.
In the wake of President Trump’s ban on travelers from some countries, Googlers, including leadership, became actively involved in the fight against the president’s actions.
Natisha Tiku details at WIRED the moment when Sundar Pichai and Sergey Brin spoke to Googlers at San Francisco International Airport. The executives spoke out against President Trump’s executive order and, writes Tiku, that was the last time management and employees were so united. Tiku continues:
Pichai called immigration “core to the founding of this company.” He tried to inject a dose of moderation, stressing how important it was “to reach out and communicate to people from across the country.” But when he mentioned Brin’s appearance at the airport, his employees erupted in chants of “Ser-gey! Ser-gey! Ser-gey!” Brin finally extricated himself from the crowd and shuffled up to the mic, windbreaker in hand. He, too, echoed the protesters’ concerns but tried to bring the heat down. “We need to be smart,” he said, “and that means bringing in folks who have some different viewpoints.” As he spoke, a news chopper flew overhead.
And that was pretty much the last time Google’s executives and workers presented such a united front about anything.
As the Trump era wore on, Google continued to brace itself for all manner of external assaults, and not just from the right. The 2016 election and its aftermath set off a backlash against Silicon Valley that seemed to come from all sides. Lawmakers and the media were waking up to the extractive nature of Big Tech’s free services. And Google—the company that had casually introduced the internet to consumer surveillance, orderer of the world’s information, owner of eight products with more than a billion users each—knew that it would be an inevitable target.
But in many respects, Google’s most vexing threats during that period came from inside the company itself. Over the next two and a half years, the company would find itself in the same position over and over again: a nearly $800 billion planetary force seemingly powerless against groups of employees—on the left and the right alike—who could hold the company hostage to its own public image.
In a larger sense, Google found itself and its culture deeply maladapted to a new set of political, social, and business imperatives. To invent products like Gmail, Earth, and Translate, you need coddled geniuses free to let their minds run wild. But to lock down lucrative government contracts or expand into coveted foreign markets, as Google increasingly needed to do, you need to be able to issue orders and give clients what they want.
The more I read about Google, the more problems I see in the company’s future. I have written to you about the Cryptocosm and Life After Google. An inability of executives to maintain focus at Google will only bring on the cryptocosm sooner.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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