This is what the “Silicon Valley bubble” means

Catherine Stevens
Sep 19, 2013 · 4 min read

Yesterday while browsing through Facebook, I saw this post:

This was from someone who goes to school in the heart of Silicon Valley, has used Google Glass more than once, has programmed with Google Glass, etc., and (obviously) had access to the iOS 7 beta for developers. Given where he was coming from, his sentiment made complete sense. However, my initial reaction was “wow, this person is on a completely different level than the rest of the world.” I’ll explain what I mean, but first, a bit of background: I lived in the heart of Silicon Valley (Palo Alto, California) my entire life until a month ago when I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, a college town south of Portland. Prior to leaving, I had spent 7 months surrounded by the latest technology and startups, living, working and hanging out with founders and tech people.

Since moving, my life has been completely different. I remember the first time I realized that Silicon Valley and Corvallis’s definition of “entrepreneur”, “startup”, “innovation”, etc. were polar opposites. I remember feeling immense frustration at the fact that I couldn’t just hire a TaskRabbit to deliver furniture or clean my house, or call a last-minute Lyft if I got stuck somewhere because, oh yeah, I now live 250 miles from the nearest city with either of those (or for that matter, any other service you come to expect and rely on in Silicon Valley). Instead I had to actually clean my house and buy furniture and take the bus at midnight. I detested having to use buggy, non-gorgeous sites. I deserved to have a quick, easy-to-use, intuitive, beautifully-designed mobile-optimized experience god damnit!

It took me a few weeks to get used to people’s initial reaction when I told them about Airbnb: “You stay in strangers’ houses? But isn’t that dangerous?!” Even though I knew it shouldn’t be shocking, I was still shocked that people didn’t know what Meetup is, what MOOCs are, what an IPO is, what the difference between front-end and back-end development is and what the sharing economy is. The most hilarious one was explaining to someone that contrary to popular belief, hackers aren’t the bad guys.

Although there are obviously things I miss about Silicon Valley, I’m in no way trying to say that I regret moving. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I ever made: it forced me to get out of my comfort zone, think about what I want out of life, and just question myself and what I know in general. Indeed, had I read this before I moved, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, and even now I am in no way bashing what the status says. However, my views on the Silicon Valley tech mentality have changed dramatically since moving and this was simply the first time (and I don’t think the last either) that someone from back home said something that felt a little off to me. A few things that struck me:

  1. The fact that he likened the experience of using iOS 7 for the first time to the wonder of seeing or hearing for the first time meant that getting a mobile software update ranked up there with gaining the ability to see or hear. On the scale of possible life-changing, life-improving events, for 99.99999% of humanity, getting a mobile software update doesn’t even rank.
  2. The whole status indicates that he has forgotten what it was like to not have iOS 7. What?! It’s only been 3 months!
  3. Comparing it to something as fundamental as sight or hearing implies that everyone needs to have it in order to function, which just isn’t the case for the vast majority of people.

This status illustrates, albeit incredibly bluntly, part of what, in my opinion, the “Silicon Valley bubble” means: that you’ve forgotten (or never knew) what it was like to not have access to the latest technology (startups, innovation, ideas, etc.)

Growing up, everyone always talked about how lucky I was to live in Palo Alto, but since it was all I knew, I always brushed it aside: Palo Alto wasn’t the tech mecca everyone said it was; it was simply where I was born, went through teenage angst and embarrassment, fell too hard for boys, fought with my parents, and did everything else everyone goes through.

It was only when I moved away that I finally understood what “the bubble” really means and how lucky I am to have grown up there. And yet it only took seeing a few cities outside of it to finally *get it*.

I’m not saying it’s bad that the bubble exists; I would most certainly rather have mass innovation only in certain places than nowhere at all. I just found it surprising that such a short amount of time away from Silicon Valley could change my mindset so much. It turns out it’s true what they say: you never truly understand or appreciate your hometown until you leave it.

If you found this interesting or insightful, please consider hitting “Recommend”. Thanks!

I. M. H. O.

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    Catherine Stevens

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    I like education and tech. And sharing.

    I. M. H. O.

    The Editorial Page

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