Monday, October 21, 2013

Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason, the Monday Edition

I am this close to starting a new blog and entitling it "Silicon Valley is Devoid of Reason."

Let's face it, the blog would get plenty of traffic.

Note that I'm not speaking of the tech world in general - we certainly have our own issues. I'm speaking specifically about the geographic location of Silicon Valley, in which people think foreign accents are bad, Microsoft users are worthless, you should NEVER be ridiculed for wearing Google Glass, tract housing is beneath the Valley (despite the fact that many of the Valley's advances took place in tract housing), rural people are idiots, women don't belong in the boardroom, every employee of a company should be a "social media expert"", and so on and so forth.

One of the most amusing ones to me is when Valley people - those people who are pushing for a virtual lifestyle - insist that you have to be geographically located in the Valley to be worthwhile. Erick Schonfeld wasn't qualified to lead TechCrunch because of his New York address. MySpace failed because of its Los Angeles location.

But that's nothing compared to Silicon Valley's latest delusion.

Remember when Kinja was briefly down? When it came back up, I got to the Valleywag article that I wanted to read, and then proceeded to the New York magazine article that was the source for Valleywag's information.

Now I know what some of you are saying - a media publication that isn't based in Santa Clara, San Mateo, or San Francisco counties is worthless. But hear them out.

[I]t's surprising that in an interview last week, [Chamath] Palihapitiya revealed that he is entirely emblematic of Silicon Valley's extreme myopia when it comes to the political system, and dismissive of those who suffer when the system grinds to a halt.

At the beginning of the government shutdown - something that eventually was estimated to have caused $24 billion in damage to the economy - Palihapitiya said the following:

We're in this really interesting shift. The center of power is here, make no mistake. I think we've known it now for probably four or five years. But it's becoming excruciatingly, obviously clear to everyone else that where value is created is no longer in New York, it's no longer in Washington, it's no longer in LA. It's in San Francisco and the Bay Area. And when you look at sort of, like, how markets react to things like that, and when there's no reaction, it should be taken as a very subtle signal that the power dynamics have changed. Because markets value meaningful events, markets discount meaningless events. And so the functional value of the government is effectively discounted to zero ...

This analysis was based upon the stock market's reaction to the first day of the government shutdown. As anyone with any sense would know, extrapolating economic trends from one day of stock trading is equivalent to judging Twitter's uptime based upon a one-minute sample.

But then he went on.

Companies are transcending power now. We are becoming the eminent vehicles for change and influence, and capital structures that matter. If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn't matter. Stasis in the government is actually good for all of us. It means they can neither do anything semi-useful nor anything really stupid.

New York magazine noted - correctly - that Palihapitiya's analysis was just a teeny bit faulty. He ignored the hundreds of thousands of government employees who were suddenly without paychecks, and who therefore probably weren't going to buy any Zynga virtual goods or buy something from a web advertisement. Just think if the government shutdown had lasted for a couple of months - some of the hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees may have even resorted to CANCELLING THEIR INTERNET SERVICE.

But eventually, most Silicon Valley folks realized that government might be a good thing.

The first blow came when NASA shut off its Google+ feed of kewl stuff. In the hierarchy of virtual things, NASA kewl stuff easily falls into third place behind cat pictures and pictures of bacon. And when NASA shut off the spigot, most of the tech-weenies realized that this government shutdown was serious business.

Most of them. I remember seeing a complaint from one person who was incensed that NASA wasn't posting. Google+ is free, the person reasoned; why can't they just keep on posting their stuff? This person sadly didn't realize that the Anti Deficiency Act, based upon Constitutional principles, explicitly prohibited volunteer work. See my Google+ post on the topic.

Now I of course do not share the delusions of those virtual alfalfa farmers in Silicon Valley. I didn't cry and freak out when NASA shut down. I didn't even cry and freak out when NIST (essential to my work) shut down. Not at all...but I'll admit that when Loren Feldman's "Monday Matters" was affected by the government shutdown, I whimpered a little bit.

Meanwhile, other government services shut down, and techies soon realized that Palihapitiya's assertion was incorrect. For example, I'm sure that many were arguing about whether the government shutdown would have a negative impact on employment. Well, they argued and argued, but couldn't settle the argument - because of the government shutdown, unemployment figures were unavailable.

But if there were any Silicon Valley people who clung to the conclusion that government didn't matter, those illusions were shattered last Friday - and it had nothing to do with the Federal government shutdown. You see, local government matters also:

Tony Sanchez was frustrated by the extra time the bus took, “I work in Hayward. It took two hours, rather than an hour, to get down here. I have to waste more money because the bus was more expensive than BART.”

The Valley, of course, has come up with a solution:

The BART strike is disrupting life for almost a half-million Bay Area commuters, including Silicon Valley workers, to the point where it’s sparked a debate over whether the region should use driverless trains.

Problem solved! Right?

Well, even if BART has driverless trains, you still need people to maintain the tracks.

And even if you were able to completely automate BART, you still have all of those buses that need drivers and mechanics and everything else.

And even if all of the mass transit were completely automated and did not require a single employee, you still have all the roads that are built by the government. And no one who is serious has advanced the idea of a self-building road.

Oh, and there is (if I may borrow a Valley phrase) "one more thing" -

If we ever reach the stage where we can completely automate government to a point where it doesn't need any of those pesky humans around - then we can perform the same thing and automate all of those Silicon Valley companies, and get rid of you.
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