When I moved here two years ago, I was brimming with excitement and hope, even at a cynical 38 years of age, which, I now know, makes me older than dirt and thus virtually useless.
Some background: Having been born and raised in Philadelphia, educated and matured (debatably) in New York City, and with brief residences in D.C., Boston, and Baltimore behind me, I have nevertheless always found myself yearning to live on the West Coast, the Left Coast, the Best Coast. So I convinced (or at least cajoled) my partner to relocate. After six months of wrangling and politicking and equivocating, we did it -- we moved to Silicon Valley.
Big mistake. Huge. For which I assume full responsibility (once again, sorry, Al).
Now here we are, over two years later, in sunny Mountain View, global headquarters of Google, one town south of Shallow Alto (aka Palo Alto). Land of drones and driverless cars. Land of the innovative elite. But innovation comes at a price -- an unattainable price for the majority of Americans; and innovation doesn't necessarily equate to other things like imagination, creativity, or vision.
I am not going to grouse about the monetary price of living here. We've all seen the data, we've all read anecdotal accounts of abhorrent and unironic extravagance, and many of us have recognized the uncanny (but also predictable?) parallels to the first dotcom boom of the late nineties. Moreover, my partner and I moved from Manhattan by way of southern Connecticut and the DC-Metro area, so we were prepared-ish for a fiscally compromised, if irrational, lifestyle.
So this is not yet another diatribe about Northern California and its devolution to accommodate the tech-tainted nouveau riche -- we've all heard enough about this phenomenon, both, as of late and almost two decades ago. But what many of us haven't picked up on, or maybe didn't care much about, is the psychology behind it all. And, let me tell you, it is discouraging.
To put it in some perspective: imagine D.C. politics without its history. Or L.A. entertainment without its studios and theatrics. Silicon Valley, conversely, is merely a vacant, soulless, suburban wasteland with sprawling tech campuses interfused (or, rather, anchored) throughout the Southern Peninsula. The irony of it all? That perhaps millions of people around the world believe that living and working here represents the pinnacle of success. Certainly, I don't want to begrudge others' aspirations and life stories to get here. But, as it turns out, and as I meet more and more people, most, though not all!!!, of their aspirations and life stories are not so much uninteresting as they are disappointingly trite and, to use a term du jour, "privileged."
I know, who am I to determine what is or what is not interesting? And if you're asking this, you're right. I am nobody. I am so nobody, it's not even funny. That being established, boy oh boy, the difference between the people here and the people in, say, New York City is night and day. Back East people may seem gruff and rude and arrogant, but they still maintain senses of humility, however veiled, always having to contend with the perennially younger, more attractive, richer, more educated, more celebrated. No one, specifically in New York City, is royalty. Not Jay-Z, not Gaga, not Ambassador Swift, not a Kennedy, Clinton, or Bloomberg. No one. Which has always been part of the city's charm and allure.
Oh, but Silicon Valley. Land of the chosen. Land of the brilliant. Land of the NEVER wrong. Land of the "I-will-stop-at-nothing-to-prove-I-am-right." It has been jarring for me. At times befuddling, telling even. But, most of all, depressing.
After working here for two years, I have never in my almost twenty years as a professional encountered such brash yet passive-aggressive entitlement that it had me questioning everything. At first I thought it was generational, then I thought it was industry-specific, then perhaps a sign of the times. And while all three factors likely play a role, after far too many late-night deliberations, I've become convinced that it is primarily endemic to the area. Even the City of San Francisco is not immune, with its rich and diverse iterations of essentially the same exact, left-brained, STEM replica. What happened to the city's hippies? To its bohemians? Its artists? Its freaks, geeks, and gays?
But, yikes, Silicon Valley takes it to a whole new level of vapidity. There is no culture whatsoever, let alone a counter-culture. There is no sense of community. No edge. No expression. No identity, however tame or superficial (as far as suburbia goes). For a place that prides itself on innovation, ingenuity, and industriousness, it sure lacks authenticity and originality. Which led me to wonder: why?
I'm pretty sure I now know.
I don't relate to it, but I get it. And it is insidious and perfect in its simplicity: if you tell people they are amazing and special enough, they will eventually believe you. And, guess what? Believers happen to make some of the best workers. So, yeah, the denizens of Silicon Valley are amazing and special all right -- amazing and special at doing other people's biddings.
For a part of the country that has built its reputation and appeal on quality of life and on a healthy work-life balance, it has become, shall I say, deceptively lacking. Indeed, forebodingly so. And it is essentially the fault (or fallout) of the new guard of "exceptional" clones who currently live and, far more importantly, toil here.
So what can one do about it? In my case, it will be to move away. ASAP. No question. In yours, should you ever consider moving here, I would advise you to take heed, particularly if you don a thinking head on your shoulders. Be especially leery and mindful. Because if you are not, Silicon Valley might end up having you believe your own bullshit; or, worse, for a free lunch and a "safe space," it might end up having you believe somebody else's.