The week of November 23, 2014

The frustrating dichotomy of Silicon Valley

By Molly McHugh

Imagine a place so useful and so terrible that the second you find yourself appreciating it, you suddenly want to burn it all down. Things can’t help but grow there. You owe much of what you rely on to this place. But the people who built and maintain it continue to baffle and anger you. Often you ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”

That’s Silicon Valley.

We’re all beholden to the factory that is Bay Area technology; it powers the things we need and love. Without Silicon Valley, there’d be no Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple, or the thousand other companies and startups that have radically transformed the way we live and interact, on- and offline. These companies could have potentially started elsewhere, but it’s the Valley’s culture of perfection, design, and breakneck innovation that pushed them to succeed.

Of course, without Silicon Valley, there’d also be no Uber, and thus, no Uber assaults. No Airbnb apartment ransacks. No Snapchat Sluts. No Tinder murders. And these are just the extremes of what happens (with alarming frequency) in a society that largely refuses to acknowledge or weigh the consequences of its products—to say nothing of the culture’s ingrained misogyny, casual racism, and accepted classism.

It’s the hypocrisy of Silicon Valley that truly astounds so many—the good-versus-evil dichotomy of companies wanting to save the world and willing to destroy everything in their path to do so. The whole thing is ripe for in-depth analysis and satire (as you’ll see in our quiz, “Who said it: ‘Silicon Valley’ character or real-life tech guru).

In this issue of the Kernel, we’re diving straight into Silicon Valley’s heart of darkness. Taylor Hatmaker explores the real-estate battles literally forcing people out of their homes, while Susie Cagle surveys the ripple effect being felt in Oakland.

Naturally, a huge reason why Silicon Valley is such a point of contention is because we all hate that we don’t totally hate it—a point that just-announced Valleywag editor Dan Lyons expounds on in this week’s Me IRL spotlight interview. Likewise, Beejoli Shah takes on the economy of convenience that distinctly San Francisco startups have enabled, while Micah Singleton calls out the real bubble in tech.

It’s not all bad, of course, but as former San Francisco resident Aaron Sankin makes clear in his cover story on Google Fiber, even noble endeavors can have serious, unintended consequences.

In short, this issue tackles the big “why” behind hating Silicon Valley, and at the same time acknowledges our fault in enabling the monster it’s become. Are we the users or just the products, and is there even a difference anymore?

So get comfortable behind your Cupertino-created laptop, enjoy that Mountain View–made browser, make sure to have S.F.-based Twitter open in a sidebar, and prepare to loathe the thing you depend on most.

Photo via HBO