This is not an article about Silicon Valley. It’s an article about you. Yes, you. I don’t know whether you’re reading this in a beige cube in a beige office, in a Starbucks on your phone, or indeed in a spacious office in Silicon Valley while crafting world-changing tech, but I know this article is about you, because it’s about everybody.
There’s a job we’re not doing, and it needs done, stat.
Fortune recently published an article calling out Silicon Valley for lack of empathy, isolation and general bubble-ness. Insert Deity Here knows it wasn’t the first article of its kind, and it won’t be the last.
This isn’t one of them. I don’t live in Silicon Valley — never even been there. I have no view as to its culture or lack thereof.
That being the case, I’m not going to talk about it.
I’m going to talk about YouTube comments.
You know the type
To paraphrase every 90s comedian, what is the deal with those? “Never read the comments” could have been coined for YouTube.
For every halfway decent remark, it seems like there are ten where decency, logic and grammar simultaneously go to die.
They’re a cesspool, the axiomatic instance of the very particular kind of human fail you only get on the Internet.
Because they’re a permanent part of the YouTube business model. YouTube got into full swing when everybody still had unmoderated comments, and by the time that paradigm shifted a non-negligible number of YouTube users were, for reasons known only to themselves, coming to the site to play in the cesspool. It was therefore in the economic interest of YouTube and Google to top up that cesspool and keep it circulating. And that’s why YouTube comments are always going to be generously seeded with hateful, ignorant nonsense, Charlie Brown.
That’s why this article is about you, not Silicon Valley.
Because, as we’ve written about before, there’s a humanities problem in tech. But there’s a point no one raises, and I think it’s the core issue, the reason once or twice a year half the Internet turns into a godforsaken crapstorm.
The fault is in ourselves
Is Silicon Valley a bubble? Probably. It’s affluent and by definition highly educated: more privileged people are unfamiliar with the lives of less privileged people. But the mistake it’s making that makes gamete requests and Gamergate happen is universal.
It treats empathy as someone else’s job.
A change in the movers and shakers in the tech industry would doubtless lead to changes in human-tech interaction, hopefully for the better. But it won’t change the fact that YouTube literally requires unpleasant people to shout at each other on its platform to survive.
The path to meaningful change in digital culture does not start at the top.
The top is small, fluid and ultimately limited in its influence on something as purely democratic as the Internet. It starts at the bottom and the beginning. It starts when you, personally, decide what is and isn’t OK on the platforms you use, and say so with volume. It’s about calling out problems as soon as you see them, in part because that’s how you avoid the YouTube Comments Paradox, but mostly because it’s your job.
We not me
It is your job. Mine too. It’s the job of everybody with an Internet connection to make the Internet not suck.
Good thing, too, because the push toward empathy will have to start at the bottom, not the top. Better get to work.