The Gods of ‘Techtopia’ Giveth, and They Taketh Away

Silicon Valley showers its workers with “spiritual” perks, but only at the cost of absolute devotion.

As someone who grew up in Silicon Valley, I can sometimes forget what a peculiar place this is. There are, for example, certain coffee shops and brunch restaurants where you can overhear entrepreneurs pitching to venture capitalists any day of the week. It’s not uncommon to be approached by strangers and asked to beta-test their new apps. The median home price is well above $1 million, every fourth car on the road seems to be a Tesla, and everyone knows someone who works for a giant tech firm like Google, Apple, or Facebook.

Having spent all my life in the church, I can also forget that Silicon Valley is one of the least religious regions in the United States. The Pew Research Center has found that 35 percent of adults in the San Francisco Bay Area are religiously nonaffiliated. Only 20 percent of adults identify as Protestant, and another 25 percent are Catholic. In comparison, 71 percent of the general population in the US identifies as Christian.

Yet, argues sociologist Carolyn Chen in her fascinating new book Work Pray Code: When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley, this doesn’t mean that high-skilled workers aren’t spiritual. They are, in fact, as hungry for meaning, belonging, and personal transformation as anyone else. But their church, as it were, is the workplace. Their community is made up of coworkers. And they are being shepherded—through not only their careers but also their overall lives—by an array of supervisors, human-resource managers, executive coaches, and meditation gurus.

Meaning-making institutions

It’s no secret that many of the profit-rich corporations of Silicon Valley provide extraordinary perks for their employees, including gourmet meals three times a day, …

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