WORCESTER – Author and historian Leslie Berlin said her career choice affords her the privilege of not having to predict the future, but noted that public pushback bubbling up against tech giants such as Facebook has happened before.
Ms. Berlin, project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford University, said the explosion of technology that led to much of the computing and electronics and connectivity we enjoy today can be traced to the late 1960s to the early 1980s, an era that serves as the focus of her book, “Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age.”
Ahead of her keynote address Thursday night at the 552nd meeting of the Worcester Economic Club, held at the Beechwood Hotel, Ms. Berlin noted that during that period – which included the birth of the personal computer, venture capital, and the video game – the tech industry, evolving in a small area of former agricultural land near San Francisco, faced many of the same criticisms seen today.
In the biotech industry, which also sprang from that area, the criticism was even more harsh. But change isn’t easy, and what makes it valuable is when it makes things better, Ms. Berlin said.
“Some of the pushback they got was important for making things move in a different direction,” Ms. Berlin said.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled this week over two days of congressional hearings over the social network’s handling of user data and what critics say was a slow response to the proliferation of “fake news” and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Ms. Berlin said she thinks the growing concern about the tech industry is a course correction.
“I think what we’re seeing now with the public attitude toward Silicon Valley is something new,” Ms. Berlin said. “People have not really questioned – not just Silicon Valley, but in a lot of people’s minds technology has equaled progress for a really long time.”