Observations from the Real World

Ah vacation. There’s nothing like a little time off to give one perspective. So it was that a week ago Friday, I tweeted that I’d be making no tech-related updates during my time off.  Then, I promptly forgot about Twitter completely. I made a once-daily visit to Facebook to keep up with personal friends and Lexulous games, but otherwise I let social media fall by the wayside.

The time off was everything I thought it could be. I did some major closet-cleaning, hung out with my kids, read The Monster of Florence (no, thank you), and generally existed in the real world as a run-of-the-mill human who thinks FriendFeed is catchy slang for a dinner party.

It was enjoyable to be free of deadlines for a week, yes, but it was also eye-opening to step back from the swirling vortex of the technosphere and look at it from afar. I love my job. I love the potential of emerging technology.  But in these days away, I realized I hate the level of commitment social media demands of us, and I hate what it’s done to Silicon Valley.

Way back in the last century, tech celebrities rose up through smarts and perseverance. Bill Joy, Linus Torvalds, Andy Grove, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many others made their mark with high IQs.  Silicon Valley was a meritocracy, where what you did mattered more than what you said.

Now, Mensa membership doesn’t cut it anymore;  you’re only as good as your last retweet. The Valley’s upper echelon consists of those who know how to game the system through link bait, site stats and SEO.  Now, what you say matters even less than how many people you get to listen to it.  In this swirl of tweets and status updates, some of the smartest people I know are also some of the least-known.  They’re too busy innovating to update their blog and Twitter page and their work goes ignored in a Valley that has become “egotocracy” where meritocracy once reigned.

Silicon Valley has become the Hollywood of the North, with less Botox and bulimia but the same amount of  who-you-know b.s. that serves only the selfish. We’ve become so enamored of ourselves that we’ve lost sight of why we’re here in the first place – to provide a nurturing and vibrant environment in which entrepreneurs can develop and propagate technologies to further humanity.

Occasionally, the social media echo chamber rises above itself. Twitter, for instance, managed to silence my continuous complaints with its recent role in the Iranian uprising. The service didn’t install a new leadership in the country, but it did provide a voice that didn’t exist ten years ago.  It was proof that what we do in Silicon Valley has real-world relevance. That in the vast eddy of seemingly frivolous sites and services, there are products that can affect real change. And that the time we spend pimping personalities and arguing over tech conferences is valuable time wasted.

I’m under no illusions that this little rant will register in the tech world. But for my own sanity, I’m starting my own New Year this week, complete with resolutions. It’s time to take my life back from the all-consuming technosphere. It’s time to reward and recognize intelligence again. It’s time to restore civility and creativity to our industry. It’s time to graduate from high school hijinks and recognize the limitless potential of emerging technology. It’s time to grow up.



  1. Amen, sister Carla!! Once upon a time, Silicon Valley was a community of creators. Now, we’ve morphed into a community of observers. We’d better turn things around before the crowds notice that we’re naked.

  2. Ron Miller said

    I’m thinking maybe you follow the wrong people, Carla. Social media doesn’t care who you are. It levels the playing field more than any medium I’ve encountered in more than 20 years in the tech business. Where else can access people you would otherwise never have met, never mind exchanged opinions with. It’s not about who you know or what you say, it’s about how you behave. If you’re a moron, people unfollow you. If you’re selfish, people aren’t interested. If you just promote yourself, people go away.

    In the words of Chris Brogan, social media is about being humble and helpful and sharing. If the people you follow are just interested in promoting themselves, I could understand how you might get a mistaken impression about social media. I suggest you take a look around and find some other people and see the bright side of social media that I experience on a daily basis. It’s nothing like the place you describe in your post.

  3. carlacthompson said

    I’m genuinely glad you have positive experiences with social media, Ron. But I have to respectfully disagree with, well, pretty much all of your statements toward the end of your first paragraph. The playing field may have been level at the beginning but it has now morphed into something entirely different. People who yell the loudest and strongest are rewarded, and reasoned, thoughtful analysis gets lost in the noise. I *so* wish it were true that “morons” are unfollowed and self-promoters go away. But it is simply not the case anymore.

  4. Keith Shaw said

    Oh, we are definitely talking about this during the DEMOcast this week…

  5. Ron Miller said

    I have to disagree, Carla. I have been able to contact people I would never have met without these social media tools. I’ve made real connections, true friends and found business through social media. As I say, maybe you follow the wrong people. My experience is completely different from yours (and when it’s not, I simply unfollow). You’re in total control of the experience.

  6. Charles said

    Now, we’ve morphed into a community of observers. We’d better turn things around before the crowds notice that we’re naked.
    This phenomenon has been reported in other venues. what it means is that people who spend a lot of time online blogging are not getting anything done.

    This blogging thing is very much like the 60’s and 70’s when people spent way too much time watching television.

    That said, it does look like there are people who have learned to make the medium profitable for them.

    The few the strong the marines. Lord bless them every one.

  7. […] missed the weekly snark-fest that is The Vortex, in which we take a moment to poke some fun at the Egotocracy. And once I started compiling items earlier in the week, I just couldn’t stop. This may be […]

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