Today we are witnessing fundamental changes. Digital technologies are changing our everyday experiences in ways we have never seen before. They shape our sense of the world and also fundamentally change our experience in space and time. This isn’t only about obvious technologies such as the smartphone, augmented reality or digital fabrication, but also about invisible data systems such as Bitcoin and Blockchain or the control of everyday work processes through algorithms, machine learning and last but not least artificial intelligence.
One of the central epicenters of this development is certainly Silicon Valley on the US West Coast. What drives the engineers there? What ideas do they have about our future? And under what conditions are they shaping our future?
It was an invitation from Stanford University—the intellectual nucleus of many of the companies that decisively shape our everyday lives today—that offered me the wonderful opportunity to reflect on my questions first-hand as part of a visiting professorship. Google, Facebook, Apple, Airbnb, Uber, Nvidia, Cisco, etc., they all have their headquarters in the immediate vicinity of Stanford. Many of the founders of these companies were trained at Stanford or started their business in close contact with people from this area.
If we want to retain some measure of control over the conditions of our being, we’ll need a kind of “manual” that helps us understand how these new technologies work, where they come from, and why they take the form they do. My research and publication on the innovation ecosystem is exactly about that.
Unifying all of my investigations is the idea that the innovation ecosystem of Silicon Valley embraces a unique culture and mindset that is directed towards future making; that is to say, the engineers, programmers, and venture capitalists working in this system are all striving to envision and create a “better world.” In my research, I have interviewed many of the Valley’s major players, and identified and analyzed various unique features of this innovation ecosystem.
But the work also critically examines the consequences of the valley’s manic need for renewal. By and large, the Valley’s new technologies—with or without our permission—supplant many objects and rituals in our everyday life in a radical way. In fact, they even dematerialize our world; meaning, many things will disappear that made up our everyday experience in a previous era. As a consequence, we are confronted with a series of circumstances that significantly condition how we make sense of our world.