Andrew Marantz of The New Yorker has a bit of fun with the Esalen Institute in a report for the Aug. 26 issue, posted online as “Silicon Valley’s Crisis of Conscience.” Marantz reports on a widely perceived problem in 21st-century America: how well the leaders of Big Tech companies recognize the social harm in their innovations, and whether they intend to decrease that harm.
Marantz does not flat-out mock Esalen or what happens there, but instead quotes keynote speakers who favor jargon and therapy-speak. The amusing remarks begin by the end of the first paragraph:
“This isn’t a place,” a staffer told me while rolling a joint on a piece of rough-hewn garden furniture. “It’s a diaspora, a guiding light out of our collective darkness, an arrow pointing us toward the best way to be fully human.”
To be clear, it is also a place: twenty-seven acres of Big Sur coastline, laid out lengthwise between California Route 1 and the Pacific, a dazzling three-hour drive south of San Francisco. Its full name is the Esalen Institute—a tax-exempt nonprofit, founded in 1962.
Still, Marantz devotes most of his 6,600 words to reporting the background of what troubles some of tech’s innovators, and how they are trying to limit the damage of social media.
Much of the report centers on Tristan Harris, a former project manager at Google who worked on Gmail: