Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk tries to unpack the the intersection of Silicon Valley cubicle culture and Web 2.0. The huge numbers of wise luminaries gathering to discuss Web 2.0 at the Summit in San Francisco make important questions leap into my mind and rattle around like a man at a baby shower.
Question One: Do these people actually like each other? And Two: Do they like anyone who works for them?
I ask because of the recent visit of Conan O’Brien to Intel.
When O’Brien saw Intel’s cubicles, his hair went into a coma. He immediately declared that the uniformity and color scheme of the Intel offices were akin to something you might see in a parking garage.
At first, because it was Conan O’Brien, they thought he was joking. (There is nothing like the logic of the left-brained thinker.)
I have seen Conan early on a Saturday morning picking up his coffee from Le Pain Quotidien on West 72nd Street in New York. This is not a man who is permanently prone to humor. And, for him, it’s not funny unless it’s true.
The truth that made his locks fall on end is the truth of Web 2.0, a story of the cubicle and collective intelligence.
I am sure that, save for maybe a disproportionate penchant for shirts with little polo horseys on them, the employees of Intel are no different from any other employees.
They are booth-dwelling humans who crave human contact, warmth, affirmation and, dare one suggest, love.
Corporations love to talk about collaborative cultures, about teams of people coming together in perfect harmony, like Morris Dancers jangling their bells at dusk, to make a difference. They have chants, yodels and, even, on occasion, do-gooding or do-no-evil principles.
Yet they often isolate people in cubicles. And when it comes to the filthy question of lucre, they typically reward individuals, not teams. Someone, somewhere along the line, takes the credit. Because here in the Tame West individualism has become the core philosophy.
Were it not for instant messaging, email, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other Web 2.0-related things, the cubicists would be spending copious amounts of their precious productivity time at the water cooler, seeking companionship, gossiping, enjoying th wide variety of vending machine items and, of course, lobbying for their individual cause and rise in the pecking order.
I am reminded of the great and terrifying individualism as we are on the cusp of the fashion-based reality show known as the NBA season, I can’t help but think of the United States basketball team. Individuals who are all used to taking the credit and splendidly, gloriously weak when asked to play together as a team. For some reason, they are always dubbed the Dream Team, which makes me wonder just what is happening in our media members’ crania during the darkest hours.
In recent years, the Dream Teams have contrived to lose to Puerto Rico, the Ukraine, Argentina, all squads that embrace values that someone at the Singularity Summit would no doubt have described as meta-individual. And I would describe as bloody heartening to watch.
These teams from supposedly insignificant nations represent the core of Web 2.0’s purpose.
Web 2.0 is the accidental collision of techies’ astounding right-brain talent with real people’s desperate need to have contact with each other, understand each other, play with each other and experience joys with each other beyond the pressures and exigencies of a commercial world on which they feel dependent.
Web 2.0 makes up for what we don’t find in our daily lives. (Where is Neve Campbell? I know I put her here somewhere…)
Every day, people sit in cubicles (not just in the tech world. So much of the working world is becoming techiefied) and use Web 2.0 to surf their way to sanity, whether it be staring at and sharing naked unicyclists on YouTube or finding like-minded llama-obsessives with whom they can discuss their favorite animal’s diet. (Llamas actually have three stomachs and will eat tree shoots. But they won’t stick around to strip a tree. Goats they ain’t.)
Many now have a richer online life than real one. (Doesn’t anyone think this is the 'Nightmare on Sand Hill Road'?)
So it’s important whether Web 2.0 luminaries like each other. Or, at least, can learn to like each other. Because true 2.0-ers reach out and link heads rather than bear arms. And when they do, there is enormous potential for improving the quality of people’s lives.
Forgive me, must go. I need to find some balding, Polish-refugee, sports-adoring, Neve Campbell-affectionate yodas to have a chat with.
Chris Matyszczyk has spent most of his career as an award-winning creative director in the advertising industry. He advises major global companies on marketing and creativity. Chris has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a non-techie's perspective to the tech world and a sharp wit to the rest of the world. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.