Friday, August 31, 2012

The Silicon Valley Bubble



The silicon valley bubble.

I'm a tech guy,  been in IT for most of my adult life.  I've worked for companies both great and vile and  when I finally got sick of being used, went into consulting.  Most of my consulting career has been  working for small companies with generally good people. 

In an environment like this it's a blessing to be able to just do what you do best and not be subject to the petty power struggles of the cubicle bound.  That's how I can say they're mostly good people because I didn't have to live with them...

I'm not so fortunate to have grown up in the progressive forward thinking panacea that is the Silicon Valley.  Or at least that's my impression of it. 

Forgive me if this next part is a bit autobiographical, it's necessary to avoid the moniker of a "troll" that may give you cause to ignore my message.

Troglodyte I can tolerate, however.  After all Troglodyte means "Cave Dweller" and as far as I know people who lived in caves stayed dry in a thunderstorm and didn't get eaten by Saber toothed tigers...

I grew up in the gun toting, bigoted, false-faced, chauvinistic mentality of Phoenix Arizona.  In an ultra conservative landscape where any alternative to the nuclear family is frowned upon, my upbringing was challenging to say the least. 

My childhood experiences formed my opinions just like everyone else but things were a bit different in my case. 

I was raised by well meaning incredible people in the persona of my family characterized by unsung heroes. 

My mother, who conquered the sexist biases of the glass ceiling even within her own family and achieved more than it's likely I ever will.

My  grandmother who's depression era wisdom guides my choices to this day. 

My aunt whose free spirit taught me that it was ok to say the hell with what people think you SHOULD be instead of what you WANT to be. 

Lest I forget my Uncle who was the only strong male influence that ever meant a damn to me. 

By the way, I admit there is a bit of a conflict between my aunt and my grandmother's influence....

Of course, where I lived there was a missing character in my upbringing that often left me isolated and ridiculed.  Apparently a fatherless (we won't go there) child in Arizona must automatically be relegated to something less than deserving.  I grew up being chided by other boy's fathers as being homosexual  (at the age of 8) or disallowed from associating with their "normal" offspring for fear that I might "infect" them.  The cruelty of their children is a given and I should add that none of them were ever in danger of either "aberration." 

In case you're still wondering, yes I like girls...

So much for the glorious childhood of my memories.  I couldn't wait to get out of it...

Even  with all that baggage,  I'm not looking to go anywhere else mostly because I've been here so long that I know my enemy too well to chance a new one anywhere else.  Besides, the few good friends I have here are far too important to me to abandon to this wasteland.  If I could take them with me I'd leave in a heartbeat.

Such is my fate but I still cling to the hope that I can somehow effect some change in this unholy backwater if for no other reason than to make it a little easier on my own existence.   

As I write this I'm sitting in a house that's approaching 100 degrees because I can't afford to turn the Air conditioning on.  To do so would bankrupt me.  Not that there aren't a dozen other things threatening to do the same.  That is mostly the result of a crippling economy and a bias against those who exhibit a tendency toward independent thought where I live.

Obviously, things used to be better but there's no sense on dwelling on it.

As an IT guy I've been responsible for everything from an office set up above someone's garage to a multi-million dollar law firm whose very whim could affect public policy.  Well, at least on a local scale...
Even in the backwater that is Arizona we still get news here.  It's just that most people here ignore anything that isn't self indulgent or threatening to their pro-life convictions.  I, however, do not.

Still there is some benefit to living in a place where all is never so rosy.  I've gained a sense of cynicism that allows me to cut through the hype of gross consumerism.  It's not that I've embraced the role of staunch pessimist.  I just have insight into what level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs other people are operating on.

So finally we get to the bubble. 

Being in IT I know I'm not in the most ideal locale to embrace all that technology has to offer.  So I recognize that the tech pundits who orbit the tech havens of Silicon Valley and Austin are fortunate to be able to operate at the higher levels of Maslow's construct.

Where I live being an IT professional offers little in the way of creative thought.  It's little more than a 21st century auto mechanic fixing what's broke for a set price.  The kind of intellectual freedom espoused by tech pundits is viewed as threatening to the local status quo.  Talent isn't cultivated or nurtured it's bought, used and discarded.  That's not pessimism, it's fact.

Talk to most people who live in the "Bubble," however, and you find an idealism that borders on the naive and to be honest it irritates me.

What most in this group consider profound suffering I'd consider a bad hair day. 

I would dearly love to live in a place where I could fully indulge in the higher levels of Maslow's hierarchy but alas I do not and likely will not as the opportunity has never presented itself.  Not that I've ever been in a position to take advantage of it if it did.

You can shelve your admonitions of pulling one's self up by their bootstraps by the way.  My boots are in hock.

It's not unlike the mid-level manager who's never been without a steady income and could never contemplate otherwise.  Our priorities naturally tend to shift upward in the hierarchy of needs since those who can reside there can take the lower levels for granted.  Unfortunately, it also tends to blind us to the realities clearly visible before the rest of us.  We rationalize those not so fortunate as somehow less deserving or lacking ambition.  As much as you deny it, it's only human nature in spite of our high ideals.

Those within the bubble operate at such a high level that an event such as, say the wrong salad dressing in their garden salad qualifies as a crisis on par with the Holocaust.  First world problems indeed....

So I find myself frequently irritated when assumptions made by these "Bubble People" are promoted as reality for the rest of us.   

The fact that it's not really necessary to replace a perfectly functioning phone because a new model came out is on par with blasphemy to them.  Consumerism goes hand in hand with technology it seems and is the guiding mantra of the "Bubble People". 

In short, they don't get it because they don't see it anymore...

Therefore I place no more value in their assertions than a Metacritic.com review of a Broadway play (they don't do plays...).

If there is a social elite it doesn't belong to the old money of New England or the 21st century Wall Street barons.  No, it is the naiveté of the "Bubble People" who unwittingly advance consumerism to the exclusion of all detractors.

Perhaps if I had grown up in such a sheltered and "normal" environment I too would argue the merits of unbridled optimism and the promise of technology.  Unfortunately, I've seen little personal benefit from it.

Technological advance is a panacea only to those who can focus on it.

The easy answer is to just ignore the "Bubble People" but that's not possible.  They drive popular culture even if it's to our own detriment. 

I'm a fan of Star Trek and the world it proposes as are the "Bubble People."  The difference between me and them is that I know we haven't even started down that road.  They believe we're already there.

There's a place for the firmly optimistic but it has to be tempered with the realities that must be conquered to make their assertions true. 

By the way, the bubble isn't limited to technology.  It's easily applied to other dogmas like religion, politics and cultures.

The French revolution dealt harshly with those who ignored the realities of their own environment.  Bubble people should keep that in mind lest they find themselves on the guillotine of public opinion.  But then, the public only concerns themselves with the latest shiny object don't they...

Nothing's more debilitating than having one's bubble burst...