What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley

What Tech Calls Thinking: An Inquiry into the Intellectual Bedrock of Silicon Valley

by Adrian Daub

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Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

"In Daub’s hands the founding concepts of Silicon Valley don’t make money; they fall apart." —The New York Times Book Review


From FSGO x Logic: a Stanford professor's spirited dismantling of Silicon Valley's intellectual origins

Adrian Daub’s What Tech Calls Thinking is a lively dismantling of the ideas that form the intellectual bedrock of Silicon Valley. Equally important to Silicon Valley’s world-altering innovation are the language and ideas it uses to explain and justify itself. And often, those fancy new ideas are simply old motifs playing dress-up in a hoodie. From the myth of dropping out to the war cry of “disruption,” Daub locates the Valley’s supposedly original, radical thinking in the ideas of Heidegger and Ayn Rand, the New Age Esalen Foundation in Big Sur, and American traditions from the tent revival to predestination. Written with verve and imagination, What Tech Calls Thinking is an intellectual refutation of Silicon Valley's ethos, pulling back the curtain on the self-aggrandizing myths the Valley tells about itself.

FSG Originals × Logic dissects the way technology functions in everyday lives. The titans of Silicon Valley, for all their utopian imaginings, never really had our best interests at heart: recent threats to democracy, truth, privacy, and safety, as a result of tech’s reckless pursuit of progress, have shown as much. We present an alternate story, one that delights in capturing technology in all its contradictions and innovation, across borders and socioeconomic divisions, from history through the future, beyond platitudes and PR hype, and past doom and gloom. Our collaboration features four brief but provocative forays into the tech industry’s many worlds, and aspires to incite fresh conversations about technology focused on nuanced and accessible explorations of the emerging tools that reorganize and redefine life today.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

09/07/2020

Daub (Four-Handed Monsters), a professor of comparative literature at Stanford University, skewers tech industry pretensions in this blistering takedown. The philosophy of Silicon Valley, according to Daub, amounts to a collection of self-serving, ad hoc aphorisms plundered from self-help manuals, New Age bastions like the Esalen Institute, and Ayn Rand. Because Steve Jobs and Bill Gates made dropping out of college de rigueur, Daub writes, younger tech entrepreneurs—often hailing from wealthy families in which failure has no real financial consequences—who follow in their footsteps have a limited understanding of the intellectual ideas they claim guide their thinking, such as historian René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire and economist Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction.” Daub also claims that Silicon Valley’s ubiquitous talk of “disruption” is more about “rearrang what already exists” than revolutionizing the status quo. (Uber, he writes, didn’t fundamentally alter the experience of hailing a cab: “What it managed to get rid of were steady jobs, unions, and anyone other than Uber making money on the whole enterprise.”) Though generalists may find some of the references obscure, Daub’s mix of humor, righteous anger, and intellectual rigor appeals. This provocative takedown of Big Tech hits the mark. (Oct.)

From the Publisher

"There are so many scintillating aperçus in Daub’s book that I gave up underlining . . . It’s energizing to read a book about tech philosophy aimed at thinkers in beater cars and not thought leaders in Teslas . . . In Daub’s hands the founding concepts of Silicon Valley don’t make money; they fall apart . . . . Daub brings a Tocqueville-like perspective to what passes for philosophy in the Valley." —Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times Book Review

"What Tech Calls Thinking is more than the sum of its apothegms. Much of its interest comes from Daub's rapid gauging of the distance between the real stakes of ideas that have been converted into marketing tools and sketchy rationalizations." —Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"Readers who worry that a discussion of ideas by an academic must involve a hard slog will be pleasantly surprised . . . Delightful proof that getting rich does not make you a deep thinker." —Kirkus (starred review)

"A systematic indictment of the cult of personality and mythmaking of Silicon Valley from a humanities perspective." —Shelf Awareness (starred review)

"[A] blistering takedown . . . Daub’s mix of humor, righteous anger, and intellectual rigor appeals. This provocative takedown of Big Tech hits the mark." —Publishers Weekly

What Tech Calls Thinking is intellectual history of the most vital sort, an unstinting experiment in taking the precepts of Silicon Valley seriously. Those precepts suffuse our culture–-“disruption,” “connection,” “genius,” “failing better”-–even as we sense that they do not mean what prominent tech leaders think they do. For those who suspected that Zuckerberg and Musk, Thiel and Jobs were making it up as they went along, Daub has the receipts. By tracing these ideas back to their origins, whether Ayn Rand or Karl Marx, Marshall McLuhan or Timothy Leary, Daub reveals what thin gruel remains in today’s sloganeering. If thought corrupts language, and language corrupts thought, as Orwell argued, What Tech Calls Thinking is an important companion through our corrupt times." —Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball

"Adrian Daub airs out Silicon Valley’s smoke and turns over its mirrors in What Tech Calls Thinking. This book is a bright, jaunty work of tech criticism." Joanne McNeil, author of Lurking

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2020-07-29
A skeptical look at the self-congratulatory ideology of Silicon Valley.

Interviewed by often worshipful journalists, tech billionaires invariably describe the philosophy that overcame the obstacles to unspeakable riches. Already familiar with myths, Daub, a professor of comparative literature and Germanic studies at Stanford, dug into the murky motivations of Silicon Valley gurus. The result is this slim volume, and readers who worry that a discussion of ideas by an academic must involve a hard slog will be pleasantly surprised. According to the author, there is less than meets the eye to disruptive and revolutionary, adjectives beloved of tech entrepreneurs for ventures better described as “maybe not legal.” Thus, Uber and Lyft are certainly destroying traditional taxi services by making rides cheaper, but this is largely accomplished by paying employees less, converting them to independent contractors with no bargaining power or benefits. Once significant blemishes on a resume, dropping out and even failure have become cool. However, Daub points out that while a member of the White middle class who drops out of an elite college to get rich will likely fail, the result is not the welfare office but rather a return to college and a degree. For the most part, failure only hurts those who have no safety net to catch them. Tech billionaires often extol thinkers who were widely known a generation ago but are less familiar today. They fare poorly under Daub’s gimlet eye. Marshall McLuhan famously wrote that a communication platform exerts more influence than its content, a concept that is catnip to tech entrepreneurs who make platforms. Those who provide content, “be it reviews on Yelp, self-published books on Amazon, your own car and waking hours on Uber,” earn much less, sometimes nothing. Billionaires also remain enamored of Ayn Rand, who argued that the world is divided into creators and parasites and that the creator is above the law.

Delightful proof that getting rich does not make you a deep thinker.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374538644
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 10/13/2020
Series: FSG Originals x Logic
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 76,140
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.60(d)

Customer Reviews