Beijing or Silicon Valley

“What’s the point of innovation if you’re not building a better society?”

It is a young Swedish entrepreneur who asks the question above, and tells about his frustration with San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and his passion for Beijing:

I had, as I think many young entrepreneurs have, idolized Silicon Valley as a utopian vision of an idealistic but well-meaning band of technocrats building the foundations for a just and democratic society, but in its place I found vanity, pettiness and greed.
..let’s be honest — Silicon Valley is often a parody of itself, and it has lost some of the things that made it great. Where Silicon Valley was once heavily subsidized to be a place of technical innovation, it is now an expensive but well-funded hub focused on business execution. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that — good technology deserves good execution, and investors deserve to make money — but it is hard not to wonder what could have been. What if Silicon Valley stopped employing some of the world’s greatest minds to make us click ads, and instead served a higher calling?
I fell in love with Beijing before I had even stepped out of the taxi from the airport. Beijing was an insane mix of history and futurism… I am by no means saying that China is a more just society than the States, or more technologically advanced — it was just clearly moving faster — and you immediately got the impression that Beijing was a city concerned with statecraft and the future of its people, rather than the latest hot gadget. For all its warts (and there are many), Beijing is a city with its eye on the future and a place that you can help shape.
A Swede Returns to Silicon Valley from China — Nils Pihl

Adding spice to the rivalry, Paul Mozur at the NYTimes states that “China, not Silicon Valley, is at the forefront of developing mobile technologies”.

The shift suggests that China could have a greater say in the global tech industry’s direction. Already in China, more people use their mobile devices to pay their bills, order services, watch videos and find dates than anywhere else in the world. Mobile payments in the country last year surpassed those in the United States. By some estimates, loans from a new breed of informal online banks called peer-to-peer lenders did too.
Many Chinese also never bought a personal computer, meaning smartphones are the primary — and often first — computing device for the more than 600 million who have them in China… “The U.S. was first to credit cards, and everyone there has a personal computer. But China, where everyone is on their phones all the time, is now ahead in mobile commerce and mobile payments by virtue of leapfrogging the PC and credit cards,” Mr. Thompson (Ben Thompson, Stratechery founder)
China, not Silicon Valley, is at the forefront of developing mobile technologies— Paul Mozur

Be as it may, what the young Swede perceived in Silicon Valley is already being touted by US citizens: “the tech industry is morally and ethically bankrupt, and it’s starting to take its toll on ordinary Americans”. Even the most inspiring and copycated leaders, as Steve Jobs himself, have internalized a worldview that puts success and profits above human problem’s worth solving.

..for many Silicon Valley products and services, including services like Uber and AirBnB, the goal now is to build a product which can be hyped into a multi-billion-dollar valuation — preferably by winning as much market share as possible, and then using that market position to engage in the kinds of practices usually reserved for monopolies and monopsonies (markets in which there is only one buyer)
Rise of the techno-Libertarians: The 5 most socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley — Richard Eskow, ALTERNET

It is possible that, in the near future, Beijing (#BeiArea) will be able to copycat Silicon Valley so perfectly that tech products there will also become the byproducts of a money-making scheme rather than an end unto themselves. But at this point, it is worth noting if the Chinese model can be closer to the healthy balance that we must defend in the digital ecology activism.

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