Oh, SillyCon Valley…

I’ve been a designer in this area dubbed “Silicon Valley” for over 12 years now, having worked at a variety of firms including corporate, agency, and now at a startup. I had arrived fresh out of grad school with the simple intent to gather just enough experience and then move on to other places of innovation and design goodness, to advance and round out my professional foundation. Indeed, even my graduate advisor Dick Buchanan gently admonished me, “Don’t stay there too long. I wonder if there’s enough soul.” Rather ominous, right? Hmm, looking back on those words and reflecting upon my own long career here, I admit starting to feel that general sentiment: a melange of disconnection, desolation, and despair even. Ugh. What’s happened? Is it simply boredom and burnout? Perhaps it’s something deeper…

Now of course, there’s no question SV is a fantastic place for “Design”: the incredible mix of companies, people, colleges, networking events, cosmopolitan vibe, diverse food and drinks galore, variety of non-work cultural activities and outdoor options, etc. Tons of places for creativity and productivity. Career & education options abound for any designer with aspirations. There’s no place like it anywhere. 

However, there’s something else afoot, an insidious aspect that undermines all that I (and we as designers, I might add) enjoy and partake. It’s hard to put any one word to it, but there’s multiple aspects to it, which I’ll try to itemize here:

— Echo-chamber of living in the self-created tech bubble: Yes we get these cool services piloted or launched here —and nowhere else— but there’s an over-emphasis on their importance and utility, in (dis) proportion to other regions, since nobody else has them. We doth rejoice in our own bounty a bit too much.

— Male-dominant tech geek culture: I’ve seen some pretty tasteless male-driven prezos at start-up events. We’ve all seen the overtly sexist apps and features. We need more women tech leaders (and inspire young women/girls to get involved in tech & science), and it’s happening for sure! Got to do better.

— Premium value placed on “silly” toy apps for extremely limited market samples (i.e., the white hipster crowd with no real problems): Yo? Yo. Yo! Oy.

— Greedy get rick quick culture of rapid serial returns, no matter how silly the “app” or “service”. Not being naive, I realize this is inherent to VC calculus and approach. Can we simply not be so hubristic and obvious about it? Stay classy.

— Billions upon billions upon billions: For what, a texting app? For a pair of headphones? For a thermostat? Let’s get real folks. Feels like a Banana Republic of Monopoly money, of which denizens like me see nothing despite working long hours on, ahem, solving real complex problems around virtual infrastructure, for instance ;-)

— Problems of extreme housing “value”, socio-economic distortions and displacements, busing the “techies”, etc. 

And I could go on, but there’s clearly something less-than-positive here. These next few articles hit upon related issues more capably than I can, and are worth several minutes of deep reading and thoughtful reflection. 

// More info here:

** Time for Silicon Valley to disrupt itself (i.e., culture): http://qz.com/225782/the-next-thing-silicon-valley-needs-to-disrupt-big-time-its-own-culture/

 
** Going beyond Silicon Valley, brief video feat Steve Case, AOL’s legendary founder:  http://www.bloomberg.com/video/start-ups-are-just-not-for-silicon-valley-anymore-YuZK_CX5S6yHGX7UScHYnA.html

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