Margaret O’Mara: Remaking the Silicon Society

December 8, 2020 4:30 pm


How might a pandemic year of digitally mediated life change society for good? Techno-futurists long predicted that computers would liberate workers from office drudgery, transform schooling, and make it possible to work and learn anywhere. While the desktop computer and the internet profoundly changed modern life, those work-from-home and online-education revolutions never really happened—until 2020 and COVID-19.

Margaret O’Mara explores how this extraordinary year has revealed both the great possibilities and immense limitations of the technology we now use to work and communicate, and exposed the stark inequities of the digital age. These wrenching disruptions create an opportunity—and an imperative—to reimagine our silicon society, creating high-tech places that work for all and balance technological possibility with human connection.

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About the speaker

Margaret O’Mara

Howard & Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History

Margaret O’Mara is the Howard & Frances Keller Endowed Professor of History at the University of Washington and a contributing opinion writer at The New York Times. She writes and teaches about the growth of the high-tech economy, the history of U.S. politics, and the connections between the two.

O’Mara is the author of Cities of Knowledge (Princeton, 2005), Pivotal Tuesdays (Penn Press, 2015), and The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (Penguin Press, 2019). She is a coauthor, with David Kennedy and Lizabeth Cohen, of forthcoming editions of a widely used United States history college textbook, The American Pageant (Cengage). In addition to her opinion pieces in The New York Times, her writing also has appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesNewsweekBloomberg BusinessweekForeign Policy, the American Prospect, and Pacific Standard.

At the University of Washington, she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in U.S. political and economic history, urban and metropolitan history, and the history of technology. She is the Washington co-chair of the Scholars Strategy Network, a co-founder and current faculty affiliate of Urban@UW, and a board member of, the online encyclopedia of Washington State history. In addition to her teaching, she speaks regularly to academic, civic, and business audiences.

O’Mara is a Distinguished Lecturer of the Organization of American Historians and a past fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Forum on the Future of Liberal Education. She received her MA/PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and her BA from Northwestern University. Prior to her academic career, she worked in the Clinton White House and served as a contributing researcher at the Brookings Institution. She lives outside Seattle with her husband Jeff and their two daughters.

Media contact: Simpson Center for the Humanities