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In Defense of Silicon Valley (Why Jason Pontin is… Right)

popping baloon

Update 3-4-13: Let it be known that I’ve come to basically agree with Jason’s POV in his Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems. At least I can admin it. My apologies to Jason.

Is Silicon Valley technology real technology? Hopefully that seems like a dumb question to you, but I must bring it up because of a guy named Jason Pontin, the editor of Technology Review, who seems to hate Silicon Valley and all that it stands for (it is certainly evident that he hates blogs that cover Silicon Valley like TechCrunch). You see, Jason feels that Silicon Valley is comprised of a bunch of “hypocrites” and people with “small ideas.” It’s all here in this article he wrote back in October titled Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems (it is interesting to note that the title is phrased in a way that makes him sound like he has all the answers). I reread this piece yesterday and take issue with a number of things.

On Technology Review’s about page is the following quote:

[quote]Our mission is to identify important new technologies—deciphering their practical impact and revealing how they will change our lives.[/quote]

Who decides what is important? Jason and Jason alone? In Jason’s article I linked to above, he seems to think going to Mars is a big enough idea to merit his attention–but how practical is that? Social networking, on the other hand, is useful to billions of individuals–including Pontin. Social networking is feasible and likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances–the very definition of practical. How has social networking changed your life, Jason? Conversely, how has dreaming of going to Mars changed your life (in a practical way, of course)? In order for Jason himself to not be labeled hypocritical, he should cease using any technology coming out of Silicon Valley immediately–or put a cork in it. Seriously–he should put his money where his mouth is and cease the use of any technology that has any ties in Silicon Valley… although if he were to do that, it might make it hard to review and publish any “big” ideas. I wonder if Technology Review could even persist in this day and age without Silicon Valley innovations… no CMS to run the site, no social media accounts, no CRM, no iPhone/iPad/Mac, no analytics, no Google for research, no email?

Ironically, TR’s about page seems to delight in the fact that it has been around for 113 years. In Pontin’s article he complains that Silicon Valley is not being disruptive… yet the publishing industry remains one of the most disrupted industries in recent history (thanks to tech startups). Could it be that Pontin is simply angry that sites like TechCrunch report on the very practical technologies he himself uses (such as Twitter)? Is angry that his beloved 113 year old publication has some competition and is experiencing a bit of disruption? Well what is it? Do you want disruption or don’t you?

There are, however, a few Silicon Valley companies Pontin didn’t dare put down such as Google, Apple and Microsoft. What sets these three companies apart in his mind? Apparently, their mission statements and the visions of their founders. They seem grand to Pontin. So, apparently, if tech startups like Spotify were to add the words “world’s best” or “put an X on every desk in the world” to their motto he might begin to like them. How do you listen to music, anyways, Jason? You must still use CDs or maybe you prefer vinyl records? That would be more practical… right?

Let’s address the idea that Silicon Valley is full of “small” ideas. The “bigness” or “smallness” of ideas is relative, just like “good” design or decorating. As an illustration, if you search for used houses on Zillow/Trulia/Redfin (services Jason can’t use if he doesn’t want to be a hypocrite himself), you’re going to see some paint schemes, tiles and carpeting choices that you will find hideous… but the very fact that they are there means that someone really liked them. What is relevant to one person may not necessarily be relevant to another. People are different and that is fine.

I’m not trying to trash Pontin or TR–he is clearly intelligent and I glance at TR from time to time for some interesting info. I just don’t appreciate being called contemptible because I read TC.

I could go on, but the long and the short of it is this: don’t trash what other people do just because you like things done a different way. If you don’t like Techcrunch, don’t read it. If you don’t like Silicon Valley, don’t use their technology.

It seems to me that TR has turned into a war machine/platform for Pontin designed to do battle against the new school technology world. From the about page to these types of articles, Pontin attacks. He disguises the attacks as journalistic and attempts to take the high road at all times but what he really needs to do is learn to share. This is a world with Techcrunch and Technology Review and neither are going away. Just do your thing as good as you can and let others do their thing.