Email exchanges like this aren't helping Silicon Valley's reputation

PandoDaily had a breakdown with a vendor over a less-than-successful event. But the e-mail is doing far more damage.

Valleywag has published a series of hot-headed e-mails between the proprietors of PandoDaily, the self-anointed (and subject-funded!) organ of Silicon Valley, and the Los Angeles-area coworking space Cross Campus after an event they collaborated on last year proceeded in a less-than-ideal manner.

In short, PandoDaily founder and editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy complained that Cross Campus administrators hung an unauthorized banner with their logo at the filmed event and failed to shield guests from the audience. Whether or not the allegations are true or important is beside the point; what sticks out is the unnecessarily caustic tone of the exchange.

I'll spare you most of the gory details, because they're of little relevance to the average reader and amount to only bickering, but here's a taste:


I am spelling this out because your note below doesn't seem to grasp it. At all. *Do* you understand the issue? I am still not sure. This "oh let's hug it out" without taking any responsibility is exactly the problem. (Those were Ronen's patronizing words on site to Oni.) We are not silly irrational little girls. We are running a serious business with investments from the biggest VCs in the Valley. And we don't like people taking advantage of us. At some point that will become apparent to you. 

Pando contributor Paul Carr:

Google me. Read a few of my columns in the Guardian, the Times, the Wall Street Journal or on blogs like TechCrunch and — of course — PandoDaily. Or pick up one of my books. Read what *always* happens when someone starts a public fight with me, or attempts to shake down one of my friends.

I'd add more, but we like to think of ourselves as a family publication, and Carr's heavy use of expletives doesn't sit well with ZDNet's copy editors.

Any normal human being would take offense at the tone of these e-mails, particularly since they occur in a business context. But the real issue as I see it is that they're setting a poor tone for how business in Silicon Valley is conducted.

Make no mistake: business is brutal. It's competitive. Tempers flare. Arguments happen. If you're not making enemies, you're doing it wrong. Cynical, but true to a degree. At some point, interests will collide and someone (or some company) won't get what they want. The collateral damage might even be unintentional.

But this? This is petty, childish stuff. What makes it remarkable is that it's coming from two unofficial spokespeople of Silicon Valley. Which, if you're Silicon Valley, is cause for concern.

Remember when Robert Scoble wore Google Glass in the shower? The exuberant tech evangelist was just doing his thing, posting the photo to his Google Plus account and to his many, many followers. What made it troublesome is that he hijacked the narrative—alongside the White Men Wearing Google Glass and Women With Google Glass tumblogs, Google Glass was quickly ditching its futuristic, cool, starry-eyed but sterile context for one of geekery, exclusivity and class superiority. In other words, the very things with which Silicon Valley, at its worst, is associated.

This exchange drives the nail deeper. Like Scoble, Lacy and Carr are prominent members of the scene, and trade on that position to make their living. But the entitled, bitter, juvenile and cheap-shot tones that accompany their otherwise fair complaint about a less-than-ideal business interaction too easy color an entire region. Lacy and Carr don't speak for the Valley, but they do. And so we cringe.

You can dismiss the pair and their publication as irrelevant, and these e-mails as isolated and private. But collectively, they reinforce Silicon Valley's reputation as a place where great ideas can be nurtured (if you genuflect to the right people) and lucrative businesses can be formed (if you avoid crossing those people).

Both sides are myths. Which one will help attract more business?