Silicon Valley has a reputation for being the hub of technological innovation and world disruption. It may surprise some to learn that for many corporations, achieving that aim includes the cultivation of spirituality. In addition to meals, transportation, family and lifestyle services such as childcare and laundry, these highly resourced technology giants provide mindfulness meditation, spiritual guidance counseling, social recreation, and ethical development, such as compassion and empathy, things that were once considered the realm of religious institutions such as churches and temples, and civic institutions such as bowling leagues and local politics. Where identity was once a result of multiple aspects of life, for some in Silicon Valley, identity, meaning, and even purpose are all being found in one central place, work. But what happens when work replaces religion?
Dr. Carolyn Chen is the author of Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley. She explores this topic in-depth and proposes that real harm is done to ourselves and society as a result of the corporate encroachment upon our lives. While her thesis is provocative and debated, her articulation of the phenomenon of what she calls “techtopia”—an engineered society where people find their highest fulfillment in work—is enlightening and deserves consideration. At the very least, this analysis provides for us a level of conscientiousness that could chart a better way forward for work, the importance of religious identity, the value of civic institutions, and a healthy and flourishing view of ourselves, and our identities.
In this conversation, we ask Carolyn about all of this and more, inviting her to interact with some critique and development in the workplace since the publication of her book.