I do not have anything witty or inspiring to say about any of these companies. I had planned on writing about how I fell out of love with Apple and found my way to open source software with its welcoming of all users. But the more I wrote the more it felt like I was just really bitter. I had thought about writing about how Facebook (or I guess as of this week it is FACEBOOK1) has betrayed their users with a false sense of welcome and how that was the opposite of true hospitality – because everything is a hospitality problem. That felt kind of trite, so I have moved on.
When I took my current job I had a coworker named Paul. He was quite respected around the office,then he got a job at Amazon and left. Having been hired at Amazon made many of us hold him in great esteem. A few months after leaving for Amazon Paul came back to visit us and regaled us with stories of cutting edge technology, funny high jinks at the office, and his huge salary. Eight months after that Paul left Amazon for Facebook. A year after that he left Facebook for a smaller, less well known shop. It turns out that working for Amazon and Facebook is not as fun as they would like you to believe. The stories Paul tells now are of stress, long hours, and exhaustion. There are no more funny stories and no more discussion of his huge salary. Instead he is working quietly at a place that allows him to do great work without the stress.
Most people see Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google as monoliths that just sort of exist. I have been fortunate to know several people that have worked for them, so they are not just monoliths, they are thousands of people and that is the way I try to remember them. As much as I hate that Apple continually tries to lock you into their ecosystem or that Facebook is willing to sell your soul for a dollar or that Google knows more about you than possibly even you do, it is important to remember that each of these companies are the result of hundreds or thousands of people. Many of whom are trying their hardest to provide the best product possible.
The impulse to reduce these companies into their respective brands is an easy way for us to push off the guilt of vilifying them. That is not to say that the vilifying is unwarranted, just that in vilifying the company we are actually misplacing the blame that should rest solely on the shoulders of the folks in the C-Suites. This of course gets into murky ethical water, because the employees are making the products so the unethical behavior can continue, which means that maybe they should hold some of the blame. This post is not long enough to argue that whole thing out, but I would point to the fact that it is not the regular employees that are making the decisions for how to use those services.
Whether we like it or not these companies are part of our first-world lives, so we need to deal with the reality that there are some ugly parts to all of them. But also, we need to remember that there are a lot of guys, and a few women working really hard to make them better for you. Those people are generally not the cause of your ethical frustrations and they are working really hard to make the product or service better.
An interesting thing about blame is the more we place it the less willing we are to accept it. There are a lot of people at Facebook2, Google3, and Amazon4 who are not pleased with the policies of their companies. If we continually blame the whole company rather than the executives who are actually the problem, we cannot expect to see those employees who are fighting for more ethical behavior to continue to fight for the users. We have to be willing to accept that part of the reason these companies have the power they do is because we have allowed them to become monoliths in our lives and as such we are partially to blame. We need to be willing to vote with our feet and walk away from companies that are not being ethical in practice, so as to support those who are internally fighting for things to be better.
1. Cantor, Matthew. “Facebook Rebrands as FACEBOOK: Can Capital Letters Save a Toxic Brand?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, November 5, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/nov/04/facebook-rebrands-as-facebook-can-capital-letters-save-a-toxic-brand.
2. Isaac, Mike. “Dissent Erupts at Facebook Over Hands-Off Stance on Political Ads.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/28/technology/facebook-mark-zuckerberg-political-ads.html.
3. Bhuiyan, Johana. “How the Google Walkout Transformed Tech Workers into Activists.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2019. https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/story/2019-11-06/google-employee-walkout-tech-industry-activism.
4. Chan, Rosalie. “Read the Internal Letter Sent by a Group of Amazon Employees Asking the Company to Take a Stand against ICE.” Business Insider. Business Insider, July 11, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-employees-letter-protest-palantir-ice-camps-2019-7.