Corey Pein, in an interview with Portland Monthly’s Zach Dundas and Marty Patail:
It’s so hard to break into the San Francisco housing market. I’d stay in these places with anywhere between eight and 20 people, mostly men, in a habitation designed for three or four, sleeping in bunks. In one place, I had a private room, but there were two bathrooms for more than 20 people. I mean, not up to code. A family of three would share one room—recent immigrants, it seemed to me. The next room would be me; the next, a Google intern.
I didn’t see a lot of black people on the circuit. There were South Asians, East Asians, and white people. That ties into a new sort of reactionary politics—this new kind of Silicon Valley racism. It’s centered around these eugenics-like ideas: like, Chinese people are smarter just by virtue of their genes. You hear things very much like what railroad barons used to say about their labor force.
To paraphrase a union official I interviewed, the model is to push the cost of doing business onto the user or the worker. If you’re Uber, it’s your drivers—you call them independent contractors. If you’re Facebook or Twitter, it’s all of us. All of us on Twitter are basically writing for Twitter, for free. The users and workers create these companies’ value, and don’t get a piece of it.
TaskRabbit [a one-gig-at-a-time freelance connection service] was big in San Francisco. The no. 1 TaskRabbit job, when I was there, was standing in line for restaurants. You can totally see that taking off in Portland, right? This all requires almost a caste system, with involuntary entrepreneurs at the bottom. Elon Musk recently called them “barnacles.” So you have the whales, with their $200,000-a-year entry-level salaries, and you have the barnacle, who’s standing in line for them at Screen Door.
Look at what Amazon has done to Seattle. It’s basically a company town now.
Portland has so many great things to offer. If we trade it for a bit part in a tech bubble, it’s an embarrassment to our collective leadership and imagination. One thing Oregonians have to offer over people from California and Washington—and I’m from Washington—is a healthy skepticism. I’d like to see that on display a little more when it comes to the tech industry.
It’s really hard to make money online unless you’re ripping someone off, or commodifying something that was once free. VCs [venture capitalists] are looking for ideas with revenue potential. Usually that means finding another industry to destroy.
The happiest people I met in Silicon Valley had boring, steady engineering gigs at old-line, Intel-type companies, clocking in and clocking out, like a job at Ford or GM back in the day. It’s the young people—going to hackathons and consuming nothing but Mountain Dew for three days so they can bang out a product and impress investors who are going to exploit them—who are really miserable.
A lot of people in Silicon Valley really believe that libertarian capitalism is the natural order. Even a lot of people who call themselves liberals. What they really mean is they’re for gay marriage and legal weed.
I’ve never worked for any newspaper, magazine, book publisher, or broadcaster that would allow Nazi propaganda, even in ads. I really don’t think you’d have burning swastikas and torchlight rallies in American cities without Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The tech companies have an idea of free speech that takes all responsibility away from them. They did have a responsibility, and they blew it.
Sam Altman, one of the founders of [venture capital firm] Y Combinator, published an essay not too long ago about how the Bay Area has gotten too stifling. There’s no free speech here, he said, and where the real freedom in the world is now in places like China.
What could China offer US tech companies?
This might sound crazy, but my best guess is they want to do gene editing and brain-machine interface experiments. The only “free speech” China allows is experimenting on human embryos. I mean, that’s it. Google’s 23andMe [the at-home ancestry service] encourages genetic screening when there’s no compelling need. They want to normalize it. But if you give your DNA to Google, do they own your genetic code? It’s on their servers. That’s not sorted out yet. When companies talk about wanting space free of regulation, we should be very concerned.
I’m conscious now of the addictive qualities of these platforms. I’d really like to travel back in time to 2002, I guess. When my friends hadn’t disappeared into this Facebook version of my friends, whom I rarely see in real life. It’s perverse, how we’re all sort of forced to become phony advertising versions of ourselves on this service, and we don’t even profit from it.
I think we’re all struggling, on a personal level, with what technology has done to our lives, and don’t really know how to talk about it. I guess the book has been my way of dealing with it.