Perhaps more accurately this should be titled “My Problem with Silicon Valley,” but I have a hunch I am not the only one who feels the region has become a caricature of itself, which is I suspect why many of us love the HBO series Silicon Valley– not because it’s funny, but because it’s eerily accurate. Back to ‘my’ problem: I’m not talking about the housing crisis in the Bay Area. Nor am I talking about the political problem across California. I am only tangentially referring to the digital divide, but these items and many more underlie my general eye-rolling reaction when conversation turns to life in the Bay.
Between 2006 and 2015 I reluctantly lived in San Francisco. I moved purely for business reasons; starting a tech-focused company in New York City in 2003 was hard. Competing against the financial gravity of Wall St for talent. Raising money from a small group of angel investors who seemed more interested in taking meetings than writing checks. Expectant real estate brokers and landlords demanding financials, often pre-dating the company by several years. These and many other “real economy” challenges made San Francisco a real Holy Land, and for all things tech, it certainly was.
Urban Mapping got off the ground, and I did my best to blend in, but those who know me can attest that I never really took to the way of life. While many fled their homes in the East Coast to realize their dreams in tech and/or be kindred spirits in nature, yoga and the sapieo-sexual lifestyle, I moved to San Francisco to grow my startup. It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors, great produce or a mono-climate, but non-business factors didn’t really factor into my move decision. Hell, every day I wore a suit to work because I wanted to.
Fast forward to September 2016 where I write this from my 400 square foot fourth floor walkup studio near Union Square in NYC. I reflect on what about the Bay Area Lifestyle so repulsed me, and I think I’ve been able to put my finger on it. I used to say it’s something about self-entitlement or maybe self-righteousness. Then I pondered the vein (or vain!) of elitism, but the kind that comes from ignorance (NB: New Yorkers can be the most ignorant/uninformed group, and there are a lot more of them, but New York is, well, New York).
Upon much reflection, the answer now seems simple to me: Silicon Valley is obsessed with the future. The techno-utopian ideal demands it. The venture community, its boosters and bloggers make us feel we need to think about asteroid mining, how to profit from the coming techno/bio/nano convergence et al. I applaud it, but it has consequences.
Because of this obsession with all things yet-to-come, the present becomes an unfortunate artifact. A sort of hapless victim. Today’s outcomes may not indicative of what is next. But the future doesn’t magically appear. Oh, the irony of practicing mindfulness and being present when FOMO dictates we keep on blinders and look ahead.
Lastly is the past, meaning “that which no longer applies.” History is a pretty darn useful thing, but with the rush to plan the future, the past often is regarded as wasted byproduct and the startup universe can often dismiss it as not being relevant. Those of us who remember the dot-com crash fifteen years ago, or the recession of the early 90s may see the world differently. Of course this doesn’t mean one can’t study the past to understand the future, but a Wikipedia article about Western Civilization won’t cut it.