A culture bubble
Silicon Valley is an incredible place. Amazing people have started their careers here. Amazing companies have started here. Technologies that have actually changed the world we live in, for better or worse, have grown out of the sunny gardens of Silicon Valley. Eavesdrop for a moment at any cafe in the Bay Area, and you’re guaranteed to hear an investor pitch. The air is full of determination and innovation (and smoke — pray for our friends to the north in Santa Rosa and surrounding areas).
As much as those of us in Silicon Valley likes to believe that we’re in touch with the common woman and are serving the needs of those globally, the reality is that Silicon Valley is a bubble. While we wait for the rest of the world to develop or adopt new technologies we take for granted, we continue to ponder what’s next. In doing so, we often miss key underlying issues.
Without grounding myself in data, I’d argue that 2015 was roughly when startup valuations hit uncomfortably high levels. And based on my untrained gut, I think 2015 was when the companies that recreated familial duties — laundry, especially — hit peak hype. Disclosure: I am not a fan of laundry startups. As valuations rose pre-2015, everyone wondered when the “bubble” would burst. Technically, it still hasn’t. 2017 has seen its fair share of lofty startup valuations, even if 2016 was a slight correction. Notable companies like Magic Leap continue to raise at higher and higher valuations. Up and up, on and on.
There’s another, more important bubble that has popped: a bubble of culture. Politics, the thing I’m really bad at talking about, played a major part in popping Silicon Valley’s culture bubble.
The first prick (pun intended) in the Silicon Valley bubble was Trump. Many of us were shocked that he won the presidency. This served as a wake-up call for many in the Valley, who realized the world did not always go the way we thought it would. Being caught off-guard was a clear indication that expectations did not meet reality.
The second prick in the Silicon Valley bubble was gender inequality and sexual harassment. Ellen Pao’s Kleiner Perkins lawsuit was the canary in a coal mine. The Binary Capital saga, the Uber scandals (more than just gender inequality), the 500 Startups saga: all of these finally brought these issues to the forefront of Silicon Valley. We finally came to our senses and realized we couldn’t just shove issues under the rug and pretend life was perfect.
These are just a couple of examples of how Silicon Valley is finally coming to terms with issues that affect the broader nation and world. And I’m not saying that there aren’t people in Silicon Valley who are working on meaningful companies or problems. Silicon Valley is, as I mentioned earlier, an incredible place with tons of talent. But without a close connection to the real world, structural issues will always make us take one step forward, two steps back.