Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

A Traveler’s Thought: On Microcultures (Silicon Valley and One Trick Towns)

2015-11-05 19.01.06

The United States of America is a big country with states big enough, either in geography or in population, or both to be a country, rich with its own culture. California is a big state, with counties big enough, either in geography or in population, or both to be a country, rich with its own culture. Even within Northern California, the microcultures that exist can give you a culture shock in your own country.

Silicon Valley, the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, is what I call a “one-trick town”. The major players of the community are tuned to one frequency. Las Vegas is a good example. The whole town thrives on casinos. Even if you aren’t a casino owner, your sister works at one. Even if you aren’t fond of lunch buffets, your father works at one. The casino industry affects the growth of everything else, from hospitality and entertainment businesses, to transportation and government policies. Hollywood, or “Hollyweird” as one of my friends call it, has a similar one-trick town environment, where the waiters serving you aren’t just waiters, but an actor in between gigs. The customers they are serving aren’t just coffee lovers but screenwriters working on their next script at the cafĂ©. Even lawyers are “in the biz”, discussing how to secure the rights to a story for a movie. You may be a music director at a fine arts school, but if you composed one soundtrack for a prime time TV show, then that becomes your epithet, defining your career.

In one-trick towns, people who want a piece of the action will then adapt their ways to match that frequency, amplifying the energy. Everyone speaks that language. Other dialects are not only considered less optimal, they have less value, and people who speak them, of lower status. In Silicon Valley, when you hear the word, pitch, it has nothing to do with last night’s baseball game, even if the Giants were playing, or how out of tune you are in the shower, but rather a verbal business plan, as brief as an elevator ride, or more extensive, aided with a “deck” (which has nothing to do with boats or playing cards in Vegas, unless you already made your millions with your company’s IPO, but a set of PowerPoint slides outlining your talk).

Not only is there a whole different lexicon, there are grammatical considerations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the word “rockstar”, a word that doesn’t come up in a conversation normally, used as an adjective. It’s Silicon Valley’s go to word when they are introducing a speaker, e.g., “…and here’s our rockstar venture capitalist!” or in job postings, e.g., “we are looking for rockstar programmers”.

Everyone here describes themselves as entrepreneurs, or having been one (and if you don’t see yourself as that, you aren’t usually heard), and everyone is fund-raising (or talking about it). In random places like a shopping mall or waiting for the BART, I overhear conversations about “the deal”, and “my n-th company”, and various software programming terms. They strive for the Southern California tan and take full advantage of the beautiful nature in Northern California, but in reality, the long commutes added to the already 24/7 mentality responding to emails, texts and updating LinkedIn profiles, can take a toll.

And yet there is something very enticing about this place. This innovation ecosystem is vibrant like no other, and people flock from the rest of the world to get a taste of it. As I drove to one of multiple meetups happening on a weeknight, by streets named “Disk Drive” and “Fortran Ave.”, I thought, “Why shouldn’t anyone and everyone who tries to break away from the established entities at a new venture, call themselves an entrepreneur? It’s the best revenge of the nerds…, I mean, rockstar nerds.

It’s what American dreams are made of.

Photo: Restaurant Per Diem’s overvalued interpretation of surf and turf: lobster fries with filet mignon, in San Francisco, which is not strictly part of Silicon Valley, and with a distinct cultural difference to Silicon Valley, but that’s another blog post.

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This entry was posted on November 13, 2015 by in Culture, Travel and tagged , , , .
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