Big Tech was supposed to be different. It was supposed to make the world a better place.
Then came Brexit, the 2016 election, and the Great Tech Backlash. “Donald Trump Won Because of Facebook,” a headline in New York declared. A law professor at Stanford published a paper that asked, “Can Democracy Survive the Internet?” Suddenly, a board with several Silicon Valley executives didn’t seem entirely unlike a board with several Atlantic City casino bosses. Even after it became apparent that Facebook posts were fuelling the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, the company dithered for months before taking decisive action. Clearly, all was not in alignment.
Esalen seemed perfectly positioned to help. In 2017, the institute’s C.E.O. was Ben Tauber, a thirty-four-year-old former project manager at Google. “There’s a dawning consciousness emerging in Silicon Valley as people recognize that their conventional success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place,” he told the Times. “The C.E.O.s, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.” If the tech tycoons were already going to Esalen for ethical and spiritual guidance, then perhaps Esalen could guide them toward a less rapacious business model. “How do we scale our impact as an organization?” Tauber continued. “We do it through impacting the influencers.”