Former AngelHack CEO Greg Gopman apologized last week for a series of posts on Facebook in which he said that homeless “trash” had no place in the “heart of our city,” San Francisco. He wrote:
The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it’s a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that’s okay
It’s ugly, class-war stuff. But Gopman isn’t alone. There has been a rash of incidents in which tech execs appear to have interpreted their personal economic success as proof of their permanent superior status to the rest of us.
Some of them want to secede from America, or live on lawless artificial islands outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. Some of them want to sue their critics.
There is a feeling outside Silicon Valley that those inside the tech business are living in a tone-deaf bubble of arrogance. Inside the bubble, everyone is subverting! — disrupting! innovating! — in a permanent revolution of creative destruction. From the outside, people see multiple billions of dollars swirling around companies that sometimes do trivial things.
As Andrew Leonard recently wrote in Salon, “it all feels like the blind, unconscious decadence of a great empire just before its final descent into madness and irrevocable decline.”
Here is the evidence that Silicon Valley is living in a bubble of its own arrogance.
Startup founders feel entitled to hate the poor
Peter Shih, founder of a payments startup called Celery, wrote an infamous blog post in August about all the things he hates about San Francisco.
Among his reasons: the homeless, the transvestites, the women, and the cyclists.
His animus was similar to Gopman’s in that he suggested there was a difference between “normal” people, like himself, and the poor, who don’t have the same rights to certain neighborhoods that he does: “The difference between crime in SF versus crime in NYC is that the areas in which it happens are in much closer proximity to where normal upstanding citizens frequently travel.
Imagine taking The Bronx and just having it take a sh*t in the middle of Manhattan, that’s kinda what the Tenderloin is like all the time,” he wrote.
Two startup millionaires have created a members-only “meritocracy” club. It requires a $2,400 fee
The Battery was created by Michael and Xochi Birch, the people who sold Bebo to AOL for $850 million.
It sounds awesome, according to SFGate: “While ‘private social club’ connotes money, insularity and elitism to some, these social media millionaires want their establishment to reflect Silicon Valley-style meritocracy.
They see it as an egalitarian watering hole where they want diversity, not homogeneity, to rule.”
The club’s own website calls it a place for those who “eschew status.” But the cost of eschewed status is steep: Membership is $2,400 a year, and you can only get in if you know someone else who is already a member. Valet parking is optional.
One tech entrepreneur suggested Silicon Valley secede from the U.S
In a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,” Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own independent state, run by technology. “The people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology — they won’t follow you out there,” he said.
“It basically means: build an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology. And this is actually where the Valley is going. This is where we’re going over the next ten years.”
CNET described the end of his speech this way: “By the time he finished, a slide showing an artist’s rendition of what a techno-utopia might look like if it were blossoming in the ocean off the coast of what could only be Northern California evoked his vision nicely. But it still looked eerily like the floating space station in Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian commentary Elysium.”
And yes, someone is already trying to build that techno-utopia in the ocean
Democracy isn’t good enough for some technocrats.
Paypal billionaire Peter Thiel wants to build a floating city outside the laws of the U.S. He is funding the Seasteading Institute, to build a Waterworld-style artificial island on which pioneers can experiment with new forms of government.
There is one issue that Seasteaders don’t talk much about: It doesn’t look as if there is going to be room for everyone on these islands …
Google CEO Larry Page wants something more modest
At this year’s Google I/O, Page said he only wants “part” of the world to be a lawless experimentation zone for tech entrepreneurs. The Verge noted:
Specifically, he said that “not all change is good” and said that we need to build “mechanisms to allow experimentation.”
There are many exciting things you could do that are illegal or not allowed by regulation,” Page said. “And that’s good, we don’t want to change the world. But maybe we can set aside a part of the world.”
Yahoo published a Mao-style book of gratitude from its workers honoring CEO Marissa Mayer
Yahoo published a book of notes written by her employees thanking her for being their CEO, as if she were Chairman Mao of China. A Vanity Fair profile of Mayer described it thus:
To celebrate her one-year anniversary, her team sent a company-wide memo, which technology reporter Kara Swisher, who runs the Web site All Things D with Walt Mossberg, got hold of. The memo encouraged employees to thank Mayer “for everything she’s done for Yahoo” by clicking on a link that read “yo/thxmarissa.” The messages (which ranged from “Thank you for epitomizing the values of a Yahoo superstar” to “Marissa, you rock” to “Best CEO I ever worked for”) were collected in a book that featured photos of Mayer—wearing a red shirt to address a sea of purple-shirted, mostly male engineers; conducting an interview with Barefoot Contessa food guru Ina Garten; and more. “Yahoo! thanks you, Marissa!” reads the spine of the book. Mayer then had copies of the book sent out.
Tech workers are changing the definition of ‘working class’
To be working class used to mean being poor, or at least not rich. But in San Francisco, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is now $3,250 a month. Yet the people who live there are merely working class, according to Rachel Brahinsky, faculty director of the urban affairs master’s program at the University of San Francisco:
“They’re sort of a new proletariat,” she said. “They are working tremendous hours. … But I think it’s a mistake to blame them individually, personally. They are part of this larger structural process that’s happening.”
Because Silicon Valley has created some wealth, some people think it is creating ALL the wealth
Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya was quoted recently in The Wall Street Journal:
It’s becoming excruciatingly, obviously clear to everyone else that where value is created is no longer in New York; it’s no longer in Washington; it’s no longer in L.A.; it’s in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
In fact, the “information” sector creates only 4% of GDP (compared to 13% from the real estate business) and only 6% of jobs (compared to 10% in the retail sector).
Tech news publications have begun describing Silcon Valley in religious terms
A recent column in Mashable argued that the rise of the tech sector is creating its own articles of faith.
“Silicon Valley has developed a secular theology that can only be described as millennial millenarianism—this generation’s conviction that it uniquely prepares the way for a fundamental transformation,” Ari Ratner writes:
Silicon Valley has always been a Promised Land with Biblical aspirations, concerned as much about the search for meaning as for money.
… Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I fear no evil, for you, eternal network, are with me. Your strong signal comforts me…
The tech sector believes criticism is wrong or unhelpful
In the analog world, criticism has long been understood as the method through which people ascertain the strengths or weaknesses of a given notion or product. But in the tech world, criticism is out of style. Google’s Larry Page said this year, “We should be building great things that don’t exist. Being negative is not how we make progress.”
Marc Andreessen, the venture capitalist, said of the Valley’s media critics:
The stories crack me up. There’s sort of two criticisms. One is that Silicon Valley is the new elite, the new one percent, the new oligarchy, and that all the billionaires don’t give a shit about society and [welcome a] Mad Max dystopian wasteland of no jobs [as] technology takes everything over.
The other argument is that technology produces nothing of value; it’s all just Snapchat apps so 14-year-old girls can send selfies to each other. I have a hard time reconciling the two arguments.
Similarly, BuzzFeed — New York-based, but tech capital-backed — has a “no haters” rule for its employees, and has banned negative book reviews.
And former Facebook president Sean Parker threatened to sue bloggers for defamation if they kept writing about his $4.5 million Lord of the Rings-style wedding.
At Salesforce’s annual conference, nothing succeeds like excess
Every year, Salesforce has an all-hands conference, called “Dreamforce,” to pump up its employees and introduce new products and trends.
This year, the agenda looked like something from a late-night talk show. Speakers and performers included Blondie, Green Day, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld, Huey Lewis and the News, HP CEO Meg Whitman, actor Sean Penn, model Petra Nemcova, Haitian prime minister Laurent Lamothe, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Deepak Chopra.
And then there is Gopman
Sure, nobody enjoys dealing with homeless people. But Gopman, the AngelHack CEO whose Facebook posts so enraged people this week, seemed to be arguing that “the lower part of society” should “keep to themselves” or “view themselves as guests” in the city. He continued:
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn’t made anyone’s life better in a while.
No doubt being homeless and mentally ill is a “burden,” but it doesn’t fall most heavily on tech entrepreneurs. Gopman’s Facebook message was preceded by a tweet announcing he was on vacation in Bali.
Gopman has since apologized. “I trivialized the plight of those struggling to get by and I shouldn’t have.”
In New York, it used to be that Wall Street’s bankers were reviled for their wealth and their arrogance. But through the recessions of 2001 and 2008, bankers learned the value of modesty. It’s nice to be rich and successful. But it’s cooler to keep it off the radar. (After all, nobody wants to end up like that Miami-dwarf-handcuffs guy.)
Now check out the thread of comments underneath Gopman’s apology — a lot of them support what he originally said. That’s the scary part.