Sep 20, 2019

Morgan Ames on Silicon Valley’s Obsession with Tech-Free Schools

From Los Angeles Review of Books

The Smartest People in the Room? What Silicon Valley’s Supposed Obsession with Tech-Free Private Schools Really Tells Us

By Morgan G. Ames

In the past several years, the media has produced a steady stream of stories about Silicon Valley tech executives who send their children to tech-shunning private schools.

Early coverage included a widely discussed 2011 New York Times article about the preponderance of “digerati” offspring, including the children of eBay’s chief technology officer, at the tech-adverse Waldorf School of the Peninsula. A 2017 article in the Independent discussed the technology-free childhoods of Bill Gates’s and Steve Jobs’s kids. Haplessly conflating correlation and causation, it linked teens’ technology use to depression and suicide and smugly concluded, “wealthy Silicon Valley parents seem to grasp the addictive powers of smartphones, tablets, and computers more than the general public does.” A 2018 New York Times article called smartphones and other screens “toxic,” “the devil,” tantamount to “crack cocaine,” and intoned, “[t]echnologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.”

These articles assume that techies have access to secret wisdom about the harmful effects of technology on children. Based on two decades of living among, working with, and researching Silicon Valley technology employees, I can confidently assert that this secret knowledge does not exist.

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Morgan G. Ames is an assistant adjunct professor in the School of Information and interim associate director of research for the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also affiliated with the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group, the Center for Science, Technology, Society and Policy, and the Berkeley Institute of Data Science. She is a MIMS 2006 alumna.

Last updated:

November 5, 2019