Fortune asks 'Why does America hate Silicon Valley?'

Fortune asks 'Why does America hate Silicon Valley?'

Summary: Silicon Valley is so busy inventing the future that it hasn't noticed that not much has changed in Silicon Valley itself. Public schools are failing and its communities struggle with the same problems as elsewhere.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech
1Hacker Way (1 of 1)
1, Hacker Way - The Facebook campus


On a recent visit to Silicon Valley, Dan Primack, senior editor at Fortune was asked, "why so many outside Silicon Valley vilify those within it." He replied:

The Valley's public figures often seem to exude a particularly insular narcissism – that so long as the tech biz is thriving then everything else is largely irrelevant…

It also probably doesn't help that so much of the local tech press is personally friendly with industry insiders — thus prompting outside media to be particularly harsh (as a counter-example, not as much NYC financial press spends its free time with bankers or PE execs — there's much more of a separation). 

Reuters' Felix Salmon points to a common characteristic of the local tech elites:

 It’s populated by people who consider themselves above the rest of the country — intellectually, culturally, financially. They consider themselves the cognitive elite; the rest of us are the puppets dancing on the end of their strings of code.

Dan Primack asked readers for their thoughts. I left the following comment: 

I've lived here since the mid-1980s and self-awareness is a very rare quality among the tech companies and techno-elite. They don't see much and they fantasize about doing great things on a grand scale but achieve nothing locally. Hypocrisy runs rampant.

For example, Twitter execs a couple of years ago were making public comments about how they were changing the world and how Twitter was empowering individuals and communities and how the Arab Spring was a great example. Yet at the same time they were willing to hold San Francisco hostage, threatening to move hundreds of jobs unless they received special tax relief on payroll taxes and on profits from an IPO.

Twitter's response to my criticism was simple: it's head of communications unfollowed me! (He later said it was accidental and re-followed.)

The city government gave in and Twitter got what it wanted and it agreed to move into the mid-Market/Tenderloin area, one of the poorest neighborhoods, that the city has been trying to gentrify for decades.

But there's not much gentrification going on because Twitter keeps hundreds of staff inside, with free gourmet meals, plus a slew of free services, dry cleaning, even cleaning staff apartments. It is competing with local businesses rather than helping support them — it's the opposite of gentrification.

Google is doing the same in the center of Silicon Valley, competing with local businesses by providing a multitude of services to its staff. Living in the shadow of the Googleplex, or Twitterplex, or Facebook's giant campus at 1, Hacker Way, is causing job losses and hurting rather than boosting the local economy.

The violent urban ghetto in the heart of Silicon Valley

It's Silicon Valley's blindness to its own hypocrisy that is truly shocking. Silicon Valley towns continue to suffer from terrible public schools and broken communities. East Palo Alto is a violent urban ghetto in every sense of the definition — is smack-dab in the heart of Silicon Valley! In one two week period this summer, eight people were shot. It's right next to Facebook, Google, and close to Stanford university. [The only high-tech East Palo Alto has is a system of microphones to triangulate the position of gun shots sounds.]

Silicon Valley has all these incredible visionaries saying they are changing the world yet can't change their own neighborhoods. The local schools should be showcases instead they are basket cases; the local communities should be healthy and thriving, yet they are suffering from unemployment and local government is dealing with the same problems that other communities across the country have to deal with on a daily basis.

Our CEOs will fly to Washington to complain about the poor state of education in the US. But why don't they walk down the street and address a high school? We have all these rock star CEOs that could inspire so many local students. (Kudos to Marc Zuckerberg for starting to do that.)

What's the point in having these high tech giants in our midst when there is little advantage to the communities that surround them? They want special treatment; they want to pay less taxes or hardly any taxes; they would rather be a burden on their neighbors than ease the burden of others.

Surely, where you live should reflect your values and ethics? Surely, if you can make a difference in the world you should be doing that where you live first. Because if you can make a difference here you can do it anywhere.  It's a reality check on all these grand fantasies of a connected, open, and better world through technology. 

But people make changes not technology, that's the tool, you still need the determination and the will to make the world a better place — it has to come from someone.

Patience has run out...

I think that the rest of the country has been waiting for Silicon Valley to step up and start contributing to making things better, to start producing on its implied promises of a better tomorrow and it hasn't. Their patience has run out.

Silicon Valley companies should just f*ck-the-shut-up about changing the world when they consistently haven't been able to change anything locally. For decades now, East Palo Alto remains a ghetto, the Tenderloin is still the poorest, most deprived neighborhood in San Francisco, and our public schools have only a 50% graduation rate. And the tech companies are willing to let things stay that way. Their techno-optimism doesn't require any techno-activism, it's as if the technology itself is the agent of change without any human direction or determination required.

It should be embarrassing to say, "Yes, we're inventing the future here" — but it looks the same as the past. But there is no embarrassment because there is no self-awareness.

- - -

Update: I don't think that Google et al are evil or deliberately negligent. But they often exhibit an amoral nature, a corporate mentality that sits somewhere on the spectrum of autism, where they aren't sure about what's right and wrong. They try to rely on data to inform their decisions but reading the meaning of data requires a moral and ethical compass as a reference.

Silicon Valley companies will get better at making where they live a better place for all, and by doing that, they will make a reality of the fantasies they tell themselves about the greater world. I can't wait!

Topic: Emerging Tech

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It's more than that...

    Silicone valley is in fact elitist and cut throat; what was once marketed as a place anyone with an innovative mind could succeed, built by a bunch of guys that just loved computers. Is in its harsh reality a bunch of Harvard grads fighting over who is smarter and using fortune 500 companies and the people who work for them as ammunition in a game of one-ups-man-ship. The way Microsoft extorted money from HTC over the use of Android, the way apple went Thermo-nuclear on Google, the way real inventors like Wozniak and Peter Norton were simply used and pushed out of the way. It's soiled the dream that a brilliant mind could succeed in the Valley even if he wasn't the best looking, most popular, or most social with just hard work. In essence, Silicon Valley was marketed as the epitome of the American dream; and now it just looks like a corporate playground for rich kids.
    • re:

      Last time I checked, Microsoft was headquartered in Redmond, WA, not Silicon Valley.
      Sir Name
      • microsoft gets all it's ideas

        from Silicon Valley, so in essence it IS a Silicon Valley company...
        Tony Burzio
        • Or...

          SV gets many ideas from MS. MS is actually a very innovative company, they simply suck at execution. They had smartphones and tablets, etc years ago but it took Apple to take the concepts and polish them up and make them work simply with design. MS has so much R&D, they are the Bell Labs of the tech industry today.
          Rann Xeroxx
    • @ Socratesfoot

      Your post deserves a billion dislikes and flags.

      What level playground are you staring at?

      First it was Fairchild Semiconductor which really was the first silicon corporation in SV. Then followed National Semiconductor corporation. Of course there were HP and Kodak and GE all along the way from the 1950s. Along with Xerox from the 1970s. But where do these companies exist now? Or the right question is - do any of the surviving 1st generation or 2nd generation Silicon Valley companies still grow?

      They are all actually dying. And they will die in more numbers as the 3rd generation companies also mature in the coming decade.

      Simply put, all of the semiconductor business and technology innovation from Silicon Valley has already come to a halt.

      The next step of technology maturity will occur in the systems engineering businesses like at Cisco Systems and Microsoft which kind of is already underway.

      The only companies that appear to get growth going in the last few years, especially since the Great Recession of 2008-2009, are the Internet companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Apple etc and then a few Enterprise Software companies like SAP and Microsoft. But the growth of Enterprise Software has already matured and Cloud may not bring in anticipated astronomical rates of market growth (since it is a replacement technology).

      Essentially only the Internet high tech companies will truly survive in Silicon Valley. And none of those companies could not care lesser if the mouse was invented at SRI or if the WIMP paradigm came from Xerox Palo Alto center. Or if Fairchild Semiconductor made may be the earliest analog IC with Silicon material (Robert Noyce) in 1956 or 1957.

      I was at TI in 1990s and they of course venerated Jack Kilby. So did surrounding engineering halls of Nortel etc. Or atleast they knew. The fact that Robert Noyce did not win the Nobel Prize for the IC invention maybe was a turn off for Silicon Valley which believes in media glories. But no one I worked with at SV companies (except Fairchild and National and may be Intel) knows Robert Noyce. He is forgotten.

      When the key inventors or engineers themselves are forgotten, how do you expect their attitude towards other human beings to be? To put it mildly, it will actually be disgusting.

      The Internet companies are in a splurge mood right now. Let them splurge in SV, SF and Bay Area and other regions.

      But I have no doubt we have reached a dead end in terms of Silicon Valley innovation in terms of business cycles. The reason lies in the maturity of the technology itself. The so called emphasis on data to sell to advertisers is all that the new generation SV companies need. They could not care less if fundamental tech innovation is needed or not. And that also implies their other priorities are messed up too. They could not care less if surrounding county governments go bankrupt (like Stockton). Or if K-12 school districts layoff teachers. Or if homeless people put up tent cities where they should not. Since none of these issues will get them ad money, don't they?
    • Foremski's Article = MVA - Most Valued Article

      Thank you Socrates, but the most valuable News Article EVER written on ZDnet may be this one by Foremski.

      ---Thank you Tom.
      Paul B. Wordman
  • That was brutal

    butas you live there I differ to your first hand experience. There is definitely an arrogance surrounding tech which is too bad.
    • Excellent job Tom!

      It was time that someone with enough balls AND that could be heard tell those bastards the naked truth
  • Not thinking about society sometimes.

    "Why does America hate Silicon Valley?"

    Sometimes Silicon Valley does technology for the sake of technology, rather than thinking about the societal implications. Buzzwords are never questioned, always accepted as facts and inevitable futures.

    Big data? Considered to be inevitable. Cloud computing? Considered to be inevitable. BYOD? Considered to be inevitable. Everything is considered in this light, so that the largest possible barrier to changing societal direction is pushed down everybody's throats. Nobody second guesses anything or thinks about the societal picture - it's just ASSUMED that the benefits will overwhelm the drawbacks (no matter what the drawbacks will be), without any careful thought put into what exactly the benefits and drawbacks are.

    SILICON VALLEY IS VERY CLOSE MINDED when it comes to this stuff - the result is always the same: "Our tech wins. Always." Nobody is EVER allowed to come to the conclusion that we should change direction and pursue another way to the future.

    Oh, you want to do peer-to-peer instead of our current model? Too bad. We're keeping the backend/frontend model.

    Oh, you want to leverage both cloud computing and local computing in harmony to get the best of both worlds? Too bad. We're sticking to the idea that 100% cloud computing is "the future," and there is no room for hybrids in our future.

    Oh, you want to pursue privacy technologies? Too bad. We've self-proclaimed that privacy is dead, and self-proclaimed that no technology in the future will solve privacy issues.

    And heaven help you if you want to actually DREAM of changing the direction we have self-proclaimed to be true. We won't think about it. We won't support it. We won't give you the benefit of the doubt. We are Silicon Valley, and we are always right. All that's left to talk about is how we will reach the future we believe is inevitable, not how we should actually change our direction.

    Frankly, Silicon Valley has some of the most close-minded people I've ever seen.
    • Although . . .

      Although . . . I think that's often tech media making it look this way, not the people in the trenches. Most developers and IT people I know aren't quite as gung-ho on the buzzwords.
  • This is the dumbest article this side of creationism....

    Here we have an author who decries the fact that companies don't fix local economies and don't fix schools!

    Are you kidding me?

    Can you point to one place where any company has ever fixed local schools? Can you point to one place where they fixed up the roads, the power grid, and helped build retirement homes?

    This is not the job of private companies, hello?

    Chances are, those same people that work in Silicone Valley, which has been reduced to a shadow of its former self in the last decade or so in terms of innovation and IT companies, don't live there. This is California, where everyone appears to prefer to work at least 1.5 hours of traffic jams away from where they live (aka: 8 miles for the rest of the country).

    If you're whining and crying about tax rebates, keep crying about them. Everyone gets them, including all those homeowners with solar panels, new energy efficient refrigerators, and hybrid cars. Everyone gets tax rebates - we are in a period where historically our taxes have hit an all-time low, and that includes all manner of corporate taxes, small business taxes, and even private citizen taxes!

    What he should be doing is whining and crying about how California, a REPUBLICAN state, full of more "republican laws" and legislators that are busy banning gay rights and legalizing drugs than actually running the state... heck am I the only one that remembers the rolling brown-outs because they couldn't pay their electric bills?!

    Yes - do blame all that republican neglect on those private companies. Come one, pile on the trickle-down economics some more while you're at it. Apparently, it's working so well for Silicone Valley?!?
    • Good Points.

      These companies are not much different than any other large enterprise.
      But it seems quite common to cite high minded goals, as in Google's
      " no evil..."
      BTW: it's Silicon Valley. Silicone Valley is near Hollywood.
      Dr. MontBlanc
      • Huh?

        Silicon Valley is nowhere near Hollywood. Try driving from Silicon Valley to Hollywood, then come back and tell me how close they are to one another.
        • silicone :))

          Silicone Peaks, Hollywood ;)
    • No, Poor points.

      Agreed, companies don't do the social and infrastructural upgrades, local authorities do. But they can only do it with tax money. If the companies aren't going to pay their share in taxes, how does the city make the improvements?

      Tax breaks are for companies making contributions in other ways, like providing employment. There's no benefit to the local community if a corporation's employees all commute in from the wealthier burbs and don't even buy their lunchtime sandwiches in the area.
    • California a Republican state?

      The why have they voted "Democrat" for the last 20 some odd years? 20 years worth of "Democratic Laws" that have put them in the financial bind they're in?

      I think you're trying to steer the blame away from the party you proudly back.

      Blame it on the Republicans, because you know, that works so well at actually solving the problems the Democrats created...
    • Ford

      Actually before the Detroit auto crash ,Ford was involved in all of those things when it first came into being.
  • This is not true

    Tech companies are doing what they can. Rents are going to the stratosphere.
    The same rich dudes also support bunch of poor homeless bums in San Francisco.
  • Asks Forbes, a rag that is anti-American worker

    With articles from years ago gloating "If no American wants to do it, millions of Indians and Chinese will" (despite reports of Americans training their own H1B replacements, since there is no way these 'emerging markets' managed to learn all of the modern day software via pencil and paper and no help from anyone else anywhere), garbage about the 99% giving more to the 1% (that article wholly ignored corporate welfare and tax breaks and virtual land giveaways), whose amounts are far more than any other form of welfare put out... never mind the effect of wage stagnation or devaluation their own actions caused... real work is not easy. Turning it into 99 cent apps where the company takes 30% off the top for work they did not do is worse, especially when said companies all leeched off of open source in the first place.

    The corporate kings blame welfare queens and make homeless zings. Then they wonder why they are not liked.
  • I'm shocked

    I'm surprised to hear this, and would like to understand it more. Here in Microsoft's neighborhood in Redmond/Bellevue, the local community couldn't be more different - low crime, the best public schools in the country, etc. But I can't say Microsoft as a company has much to do with any of that. Microsoft is not really involved in the local community at all as far as I can tell. The good conditions we have here seem largely due to the efforts of Microsoft's employees acting on their own and via government and non-profits, as well as non-Microsoft people in general. I would have ascribed this to a diverse and well-educated workforce, but my understanding is that Silicon Valley also has such a workforce. I would like to know why the communities are so different.