Dignity in a Digital Age review: a congressman takes big tech to task | Books

Simply on the proof of his new e-book, Ro Khanna is without doubt one of the broadest, brightest and best-educated legislators on Capitol Hill. A graduate of the College of Chicago and Yale Legislation College who represents Silicon Valley, he’s by far probably the most tech-savvy member of Congress.

At this very darkish second for American democracy, this exceptional son of Indian immigrants writes with the optimism and idealism of a first-generation American who nonetheless marvels on the alternatives he has had.

Much more exceptional for a congressman whose district contains Apple, Google, Intel and Yahoo, Khanna is without doubt one of the few who refuses to take marketing campaign cash from political motion committees.

A couple of times in a “heated basketball sport” in highschool, he writes, somebody might have shouted “return to India!” However what Khanna largely remembers about his childhood are neighbors in Pennsylvania’s Bucks county who taught him “to imagine that goals are price pursuing in America, no matter one’s title or heritage”.


His e-book is bulging with concepts about how to remodel big tech from a large risk to liberty into a real engine of democracy. What he’s asking for is sort of impossibly formidable, however he by no means sounds daunted.

“As a substitute of passively permitting tech royalty and their legions to lead the digital revolution and serve slim monetary ends earlier than all others,” he writes, “we want to put it in service of our broader democratic aspirations. We want to steer the ship [and] name the pictures.”

The story of tech is emblematic of our time of singular inequality, a handful of big winners on prime and a huge inhabitants untouched by the riches of the silicon revolution. Khanna begins his e-book with a barrage of statistics. Ninety % of “innovation job development” in latest many years has been in 5 cities whereas 50% of digital service jobs are in simply 10 main metro facilities.

Most Individuals “are disconnected from the wealth technology of the digital economic system”, he writes, “regardless of having their industries and … lives reworked by it”.


A central thesis is that no particular person must be pressured to go away their hometown to discover a respectable job. There’s one big purpose for optimism about this large aspiration: the impression of Covid. Virtually in a single day, the pandemic “shattered” typical knowledge “about tech focus”. All of the sudden it was apparent that high-speed broadband allowed “hundreds of thousands of jobs to be accomplished anyplace in the nation”.

The willingness of hundreds of thousands of Individuals to go away big metropolis life is confirmed by red-hot actual property markets in remote cities and villages – and a Harris ballot that confirmed almost 40% of metropolis dwellers have been keen to reside elsewhere.

“The promise is of latest jobs with out sudden cultural displacement,” Khanna writes.

He suggests a vary of incentives to unfold tech jobs into rural areas, together with big federal funding to convey high-speed connections to the hundreds of thousands nonetheless with out them. That is flip would make it potential to require federal contractors to have a minimum of 10% of their workforces in rural communities.


The congressman imagines nothing lower than a “recentering” of “human values in a tradition that prizes the pursuit of technological progress and market valuations”. A significant step in that path can be a $5bn funding for laptops for 11 million college students who don’t have them.

The issues of inequality start on the tech giants themselves. Nearly 20% of laptop science graduates are black or Latino however solely 10% of staff of big tech corporations are. Lower than 3% of enterprise capital lands in the palms of Black or Latino entrepreneurs.

If redistributing a few of big tech’s gigantic wealth is a method to regain some dignity in the digital age, the opposite is to rein in a number of the trade’s gigantic abuses. Knowledge mining and the promotion of hate for revenue are the 2 largest issues. Khanna has drafted an Web Invoice of Rights to enhance the scenario.

Ro Khanna and Tony Blair seem at a tech summit in Portugal in 2019. {Photograph}: Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis/Getty Photographs

All through his e-book, he drops bits of proof to recommend simply how pressing it’s to discover a method to make the largest corporations behave higher.

“Algorithmic amplification” seems to be one of many biggest evils of the trendy age. After extracting large quantities of information about customers, Fb and the opposite big platforms “push sensational and divisive content material to inclined customers primarily based on their profiles”.

An inner dialogue at Fb revealed that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our suggestions”. The explosion of the weird QAnon is considered one of Fb’s most doubtful accomplishments. Within the three years earlier than it lastly banned it in 2020, “QAnon teams developed hundreds of thousands of followers as Fb’s algorithm inspired folks to be part of primarily based on their profiles. Twitter additionally beneficial Qanon tweets”. The conspiracy principle was “actively beneficial” on YouTube till 2019.

After which there’s the only biggest big tech crime in opposition to humanity. In accordance to Muslim Advocates, a Washington-based civil rights group, the Buddhist junta in Myanmar used Fb and WhatsApp to plan the mass homicide of Rohingya Muslims. The United Nations found that Fb performed a “determining role” in occasions that led to the homicide of a minimum of 25,000 and the displacement of 700,000.

The world would certainly be a a lot better place if it adopted Khanna’s suggestions. However the query Khanna is simply too optimistic to ask may additionally be crucial one.

Have these corporations already bought an excessive amount of management of the American authorities for any basic change to be potential?

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