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.