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Is Silicon Valley an echo chamber — or does it just lose perspective?

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Nick Bilton, in his Disruptions column for the New York Times, lamented the echo chamber of Silicon Valley.

Sometimes, Hollywood screenwriters create scripts filled with inside jokes that only people in Hollywood could appreciate. Sometimes, New York media writers write about other New York media writers. And sometimes, tech entrepreneurs in San Francisco and Silicon Valley to the south create companies best appreciated by other people who live and breathe technology.

It is hard to argue with Nick, when his testimony includes $6 million in funding for an app called Twist, which essentially allows you to alert people that you are running late for a meeting and shows your position on a map. His testimony also includes Blackjet, an affordable private jet solution. These are services solving what could be labeled Silicon Valley’s first world problems. The rest of the article has supporting arguments from experts such as my former Red Herring editor Jason Pontin, who now is the head honcho of MIT’s Technology Review.

From where I stand, this is less about an echo chamber and more about a lack of perspective. Twist seemed like an interesting idea at its genesis, except is no more than a mere feature for Google Now. The fact is that when you live in an industry town like San Francisco, you start to see things with a narrower perspective that eventually makes you oblivious to the big picture. And that is true not just of the startups but also those who back them. Like everyone else, I suffer from this lack of perspective, and often have to travel in places outside the Valley to reccaliberate my lens. I said as much in this musing yesterday about San Francisco’s alpha adoption culture.

Adding a video from our friend Sean Gourley, where in he talks about the challenges in a way only he can.

10 Responses to “Is Silicon Valley an echo chamber — or does it just lose perspective?”

  1. Thomas Krafft

    Yes, there are a few strange conundrums here in the Valley: Startups can’t get funding to build anything or gain traction, unless they’ve already built something and have traction. … Investors host hackathons to attract developers to build something in 24 hours, while they ignore non-developers who have the expertise in building viable businesses and revenue models that last longer than 24 hours. … You have some VCs saying they’ll only invest in college drop-outs, while others only fund Stanford and Harvard grads. … and the list goes on.

    Much of what’s happening here is the result of both issues you’ve cited: an echo chamber of people telling themselves a private jet service is going to be a big thing, and a lack of perspective that gives these same people no feedback or information to the contrary.

    Long story short, founders just need to work that much harder to make their dreams real.

  2. I’d still bet with the Silicon Valley average, even if there are outliers that make it look like the perspective is gone. Easy to criticize but the balance sheet is profoundly positive.

    • Chris
      I am not sure what you mean by easy to criticize

      No one is saying that in the past there have been correct bets made in the past, especially on “technology,” but this is about consumer services that are meant to be sold to the masses. Those of us who remember the 1990s, know that things can go nuts pretty fast and right now we are in that part of the cycle where things look, sort of bemusing at the current time.

  3. I had an interesting day yesterday with the older generation of Silicon Vally luminary engineers. These guys are now in their 60’s to their 80’s and still inventing some really nice hardware but have a problem getting traction in a Silicon Valley that sees hardware as anathema and software as the low risk path to riches. That train is rapidly running out of steam.

    It used to be a seesaw between hardware and software, because as software matured and took up the power o the platforms, the platforms would then advance, starting the cycle all over again. Today that has been disrupted, partly due to the inane government of the state of California but also to the extreme risk aversion related to the cost of setting up manufacturing in the valley and near by environs.

    • Dennis

      Two questions.

      1. What do you mean they have a tough time getting traction in the valley?

      2. I am not sure I quite understand the last part about “manufacturing.” Can you elaborate?

      FYI, since you might already know, Tesla is doing manufacturing in California.

  4. Dan G

    I don’t get the fascination with Apple- I don’t spend alot of time in the City, here across the Bay bridge, I see more Android phones and Windows PC’s.

  5. realjjj

    Good examples are all the PC OEMs cooling an Android and waiting for Win 8 only to realize that was a mistake but way late.
    Or smart TVs, where everybody is doing the same thing and nobody is doing anything half decent.
    Or the crazy obsession with voice control , something useful in some cases but not a killer feature.
    Something that has to be noted is that the tech press goes with the herd most of the times too. Sometimes the tech press has it’s own crazy ideas, like Apple or Haswell will be great.

    Hmm.. payed content is one of those crazy ideas some in the ,lets say tech, industry are still trying to push.