I don’t have any empirical evidence to bolster this observation, but it certainly feels palpable to me that there has been a subtly thunderous shift in the ethos of Silicon Valley.
When we first moved here from Seattle nine years ago, there was nary a coffee shop nor cafe where you didn’t hear some version of the same conversation about paradigm disruption, procuring funding, building a unicorn and changing the world.
There was talk of an incubator cruise ship off the coast, which companies were going to have their brands featured on the HBO series “Silicon Valley” and how many shares of different startups you could acquire before cashing out and retiring at the age of 45.
I rarely ever hear those conversations any more – and when I do, I no longer feel a pang of admiration and perhaps even jealousy as much as I lament their foolishness.
Some of that has to do with today’s divisive political environment dominating the headlines and dialogue on a global basis.
But even five years ago, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit would have overcome that unfortunate circumstance because the drive for innovation and success was far stronger.
Now, it seems, that all-encompassing pursuit of innovative breakthrough feels like it’s idled in the wake of Facebook’s initial public offering nearly six years ago. I’m not sure if it’s complacency, boredom or a lack of new ideas, but I definitely sense a shift.
It doesn’t help, of course, that the reputation of the Menlo Park monolith, as well as Google and even Apple, has taken a massive hit in recent months.
As an aside, it boggles the mind that people are supposedly outraged by the collection and monetization of data by Facebook and Google.
What did you think they were doing all along to achieve market capitalizations in the hundreds of billions? Did you really think, for instance, that being a platform for friends connecting was really going to earn that much return?
Of course they are collecting data; it is the basis of the next wave of innovation, artificial intelligence, and if lawmakers can’t wrap their antiquated brains around the current use of proprietary algorithms for search engines, what do you think AI is going to do to them when they decide to sniff around that topic in five or 10 years?
I remember when the first wave of the internet came rolling through, and everybody felt like they needed to quit their jobs and grab ahold of the dream and ostensible wealth.
Then Webvan and Pets.com and every other startup not named Amazon folded, and the billions of dollars poured into those ventures evaporated into the ethers of reality.
My wife worked for an online accounting firm that had big dreams, all the way up to the point that she showed up for work and the doors were literally chained shut, the desks, chairs and computers auctioned at a fire sale three days later.
This shift that I speak of today is not that dramatic, but it does feel like an entire legion of dreamers has realized it is very highly likely a fool’s errand to pursue the promises of a startup only to discover that the shares that you accumulated are worthless and the salary you gave up in the interim will never be recouped.
This is not to say that innovation is altogether dead here, or that dreams have gone completely dark. But it is to suggest, in an unquantifiable manner, that the spirit that once defined this Valley’s existence just a short time ago seems to have waned, the fever that was so apparent in every vibration burning far less hot.