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Silicon Politics

By Margaret O'Mara

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 63 No. 12, Pages 30-32
10.1145/3431480

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Tech and politics don't mix. That has been the story Silicon Valley leaders have broadcast to the world since the region first sprang into the forefront of public consciousness as the land of silicon chips, personal computers, and video games. It is an attitude in keeping with the celebration of rugged individualism and disdain for centralized political power that has been part of American political culture since the nation's founding, ideas that gained additional allure amid the stagflating malaise of the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate 1970s. In the Reagan Revolution year of 1980, the sole election-year commentary in the microelectronics-industry newsletter InfoWorld was a cartoon tucked into a bottom corner of the editorial page. "I was going to keep track of all the candidates' significant statements," one man sighed to another as they stood in front of a computer terminal, "but there's no way to process an empty disk."

Four years later, Steve Jobs declared, without embarrassment, that he had never voted in his life. 1990s-era moguls including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos ducked questions about their voting preferences for years. In the early 2000s the loudest and most unapologetically political voices coming out of Silicon Valley were libertarians such as PayPal cofounder and Facebook board member Peter Thiel. Politicians of both parties long courted Silicon Valley's affections, but for many in tech, politics was something to be publicly ignored, if not actively disdained.

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