Nothing to See Here

Penny Kim’s Medium post entitled “I Got Scammed by a Silicon Valley Startup” has set off a firestorm of debate on Hacker News. Now, The New York Times has written about mismanagement at Kim’s former company (WrkRiot) as if it were symptomatic of Silicon Valley startup life. The truth is that the practices described in her article should have immediately set off alarm bells no matter where the company was located. This fraud is not specific to Silicon Valley: it’s the story of a con man who used his flash and dazzle to destroy others’ dreams. Also, WrkRiot never commanded any influence in Silicon Valley – no VC investors, no big brand customers, no superstar engineers, nothing. The only compelling aspect of the story might be the observation that even even the best and the brightest can fall for a con. But is this news? Don’t get me wrong. I can see why the Times ran this story: it’s clickthrough bait. But I think we all need to move past this idea of Silicon Valley exceptionalism. We all know deep down that Silicon Valley is no better or worse than the rest of the world. Why do we then act so surprised when bad things happen to good people? Let’s move on, people. Nothing to see here.

Club Tesla

Tesla Model S owners gathered at Crissy Field in San Francisco Thursday to celebrate Tesla’s West Coast charging network. There are now 16 Supercharging stations from Vancouver to San Diego, along the I-5 and Highway 101 corridors. – SiliconBeat, 11/1/13

I can’t help imagining a Tesla charging station as a private club where white men in blue dress shirts and khakis convene to discuss their portfolios.

Too Big to Fail?

Is Silicon Valley’s growing prominence in pop culture a sign that the Valley is back? Setting aside the question of what does that really means anyway, the answer is “no,” or at least not according to Google Trends.

However, the world at large is very interested in Google and Facebook.

People often confuse Google and Facebook with Silicon Valley, but they by no means reflect the health and welfare of the thousands of startups toiling away in the trenches. The real question shouldn’t be whether “Silicon Valley has made it” but whether the prominence of these oligopolies is good for Silicon Valley.

Open Season on Open Offices

Open plan offices attract the highest levels of worker dissatisfaction, with cramped quarters, lack of privacy and noise topping the list of gripes, a large study has found.

An open plan workplace, in which enclosed rooms are eschewed in favour of partitioned or non-partitioned desks arranged around a large room, are supposed to promote interaction between workers and boost teamwork.

However, a study of over 40,000 survey responses collected over a decade has found that the benefits for workers are quickly outweighed by the disadvantages …

Professor Richard de Dear, Head of Architectural Design Science at the University of Sydney and a co-author of the paper, said worker satisfaction was important because it was linked to productivity.

“The productivity benefits of teams working together have been used to sell the open plan office for decades. Yet, if you do these evaluations and actually talk to occupants of open plan offices, very few people think that they are productive spaces. You need places to concentrate.”

The Conversation, 9/17/13

Is Facebook Making You Happier?

… [T]he world of constant connectivity and media, as embodied by Facebook, is the social network’s worst enemy: in every study that distinguished the two types of Facebook experiences—active versus passive—people spent, on average, far more time passively scrolling through newsfeeds than they did actively engaging with content. This may be why general studies of overall Facebook use … so often show deleterious effects on our emotional state. Demands on our attention lead us to use Facebook more passively than actively, and passive experiences, no matter the medium, translate to feelings of disconnection and boredom.

– “How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy” by Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker, September 10, 2013

Is Facebook a good thing? In one sense, yes: as a parent of two little kids with no time to spare, it gives me an easy way to keep track of what my friends are doing. But Facebook has also devalued the concept of “friendship”: the bar to become “friends” and the effort that one has to invest in “friendships” are now so low that the word has lost much of its meaning. I also find myself passively peering at Facebook, not “engaging with content” as these studies recommend. (Truth be told, people who are “engaged” on Facebook scare me.) I worry about the impact Facebook will have on my kids and their ability to foster relationships with others. As remarkable as it is that we can now keep track of everybody in our lives, there is a cost to our dependence on Facebook, and this amount is growing with every passing day.