The tech industry has always had bosses and workers, of course, but until a few years ago, most coverage of the sector suggested otherwise. Silicon Valley was the epicenter of libertarianism, we were informed. A techno-utopianism powered a twenty-first-century gold rush, driven by software engineers huddled over their computers, only taking breaks to play ping-pong or sip kombucha in the office. “Will this app change your life?” headlines asked. Readers were told to marvel at the latest hack dreamed up by the geniuses out West. This was the future, we were told.
It’s too neat to say that Donald Trump’s election in 2016 changed all that, but it was an inflection point, opening the sector to greater scrutiny. Workers had long criticized their companies, particularly when it came to matters of racial and gender discrimination, but that year, they gained a broader hearing.
Why did this shift take place? On the one hand, there was Trump and the growing politicization that followed in his wake. When the president violated the behavioral norms whose existence had once reassured much of the middle classes of the general goodness of the state, everything around him was fair game for criticism, and that included some of tech’s most well-known companies.
On the other hand, there was a wave of organizing, even — and some might argue, especially — among white-collar workers. In the Bay Area, the Tech Workers Coalition brought together workers from different companies, and across the spectrum of employment statuses. Increasingly, the monied full-time programmer and the contracted technical writer were in conversation, and sometimes they were joined by the contracted low-wage workers who cooked their meals, or cleaned their offices. The unity of the tech industry that had been presented to the public — with CEOs as its face — was flipped; now, the goal was a unity among the workers.
Protests convened. Petitions circulated. Workplace action proliferated. Journalists followed the action closely: who were these workers, and what were their complaints? What, exactly, had been kept out of the press releases for all these years?
Ben Tarnoff and Moira Weigel, editors of Voices From the Valley, a new book from FSG Originals, offered preliminary answers. Tarnoff, a tech worker himself, wrote about tech workers’ flood of donations to Bernie Sanders’ s 2016 presidential campaign, the drive to lower wages through coding camps, and the case for making the internet a right (among dozens of other articles, including some for this magazine). For the Guardian, Weigel wrote one of the era’s first long-form reports on the nascent tech-worker movement.
In 2017, the pair, along with Christa Hartsock and Jim Fingal, launched Logic magazine, offering a place for a different type of tech coverage. As the editors write in the publication’s opening manifesto, “We want to ask the right questions. How do the tools work? Who finances and builds them, and how are they used? Whom do they enrich, and whom do they impoverish? What futures do they make feasible, and which ones do they foreclose?” The first issue, themed around the topic of “Intelligence,” includes features on neural scanning, gender discrimination in the programming world, the datafication of the medical profession, and a conversation with an anonymous data scientist.
Logic’s first book-length project was 2017’s Tech Against Trump, an edited book of interviews. The volume’s labor section consists of conversations with leaders from the Tech Workers Coalition, Silicon Valley Rising, SEIU United Service Workers West, and Tech Solidarity, shining a light on the fast-moving resistance building in the valley.
Voices From the Valley is a follow-up in the spirit of Tech Against Trump. It’s one of a four-book collaboration between Logic and FSG (the other titles are Tim Hwang’s Subprime Attention Crisis, Adrian Daub’s What Tech Calls Thinking, and Xiaowei Wang’s Blockchain Chicken Farm). The slim volume consists of interviews with seven tech workers, all anonymized to get around the industry’s pervasive non-disclosure agreements.