The Consumerism of Silicon Valley: Is the Future Being Built on “Stuff?”
Silicon Valley. It’s the Los Angeles of the new generation, where tech stars are the new rock stars. And it’s the area of the country that prides itself on saying that it’s shaping the future of not only America but also the world. We can’t deny that the brightest of the bright are spearheading innovations out of Silicon Valley that really will change the way that the world operates. We’re blown away on a regular basis by the ideas for global communication, clean energy and innovative social solutions that are developed by the elite of Silicon Valley (though we wish we’d see fewer dating apps and more Kiva.org’s being developed). But the more that we’ve been watching Silicon Valley and the media that comes out surrounding it, not to mention simply visiting there, the more we wonder if the future isn’t being built on top of a giant pile of “stuff?” Today we’ll take a look at whether or not that is happening and then make our wish list for what we’d like to see being role-modeled by the new center of all in America.
The Problems of Silicon Valley are Well Documented
We don’t need to re-hash the problems of Silicon Valley that have been so well detailed in the media. The average salary in Silicon Valley is well above the national average, meaning the vast majority of people who live in the area are making twice the average household income in the United States. Of course, the cost of living in Silicon Valley is also insane. The cost of living in the greater Bay Area is a bit of a separate issue from the one we’re addressing. Housing prices in the area are largely driven by a surplus of people who want to rent or buy and a shortage of units. However, we mention it here because your ability to have or maintain (specifically to purchase) a home in San Francisco often translates to a status symbol. And that’s the part of Silicon Valley that we’ll be discussing today. The status building of “stuff” that comes with the culture.
It’s Mostly About What You Have – and That You Have the Latest Release
What’s most troubling about Silicon Valley culture in relation to the movement towards a more sustainable future is the undercurrent emphasis on building status by having “stuff.” It can be paradoxical to watch this happen, to say the least. Many in Silicon Valley eschew things like designer clothing and instead can be seen rummaging through thrift stores. The love of repurposed, upcycled and re-used items runs strong. And those are all things that we deeply, deeply support. However, there’s an area of “status stuff” that runs as a powerful undercurrent in the Silicon Valley culture. The items that make up this “stuff” selection likely aren’t surprising to you. The two primary categories are technology and cars, though there are fashion trend items such as pricey messenger bags and designer shoes that also take up residence in the Silicon Valley culture of “stuff.”
You Are What You Own: It’s Still True in the Bay Area
Would you be caught dead carrying a phone from two releases ago in the Bay Area? Would you be willing to have people over to your home if every piece of technology in it weren’t wireless and voice activated? What about what you drive? Is it either vintage cool or just off the luxury lot? These may not be the materialistic questions that plague most Americans, but they’re certainly the active ones in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. In what may be a bit of an echo chamber effect, there is an underlying sense that you’re not moving the world forward if you’re not operating with the latest technology. And in a place that defines itself by creating the latest technology, there’s a judging of people who aren’t using it. Should that judgment matter? Does the latest release of something make that much of a difference? Does the car that you drive only once a week matter? Obviously not. But the designers of the future aren’t just doing it for altruism. They’re also doing it for ego, for profit and for status. And when ego, profit and status are part of the mix, displaying your status with the “stuff” that you own becomes important. It may not be the same paradigm in which “stuff” is central – but it’s certainly a driving factor.
Ironically, The Greatest Visionaries Care Not That Much at All About “Stuff”
We say this with the caveat that we know some readers hate when we suggest that people who own multiple million dollar homes and travel on private jets can in any way fall into a spot on the postconsumer spectrum. We obviously believe that the scale is different on different levels, but we honor the opinion that makes you most comfortable. With all of that said as buffering, think of the people who are considered the true visionaries of Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs wore only black turtlenecks. Bill Gates is spending his retirement giving most of his money away in efforts to improve the world. Mark Zuckerberg also essentially only wears one type of outfit and he and his wife are already actively giving much of their fortune away. The greatest visionaries were certainly driven by ego, but how they satisfied that ego was in the superiority of their creations, not in the “stuff” that they flashed around. And at the end of the day, in most cases, their altruism trumped all.
Our Wish Is …
That when the architects of the current manifestation of Silicon Valley look to role model themselves on those who currently represent the highest levels of success, they look at their altruism and the way that they truly changed the world rather than the way in which their inventions bought them more “stuff.” We think that it’s the least we can ask from those who are making the bold claim that they are developing the future of the world.
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