About Tom Foremski
Tom Foremski is the Editor and Founder of the popular and top-ranked news site Silicon Valley Watcher, reporting on business and culture of innovation. He is a former journalist at the Financial Times and in 2004, became the first journalist from a leading newspaper to resign and become a full-time journalist blogger.
Tom has been reporting on Silicon Valley and the US tech industry since 1984 and has been named as one of the top 50 (#28) most influential bloggers in Silicon Valley. His current focus is on the convergence of media and technology — the making of a new era for Silicon Valley. He also writes a column at ZDNET.
Latest Posts by Tom Foremski
This ad for Autism Speaks at a San Francisco bus stop reminded me of an excerpt from an article written by Curt Woodward, senior editor at Xconomy, about the lack of eye-contact within Google’s top echelon:
During Schmidt’s decade as Google CEO, before co-founder Larry Page took the helm, there was a standing rule for one senior-executive meeting: No computers, no smartphones, and talk to each other face-to-face for one hour per week.
It was so hard to resist the pull of the Web, though, that Schmidt had to walk around the meeting room and look for people hiding their phones under the table, dispensing fines to the offenders.
“Even one hour per week, you couldn’t have a civilized conversation. So when Larry replaced me, he gave up. And now I sit in the meeting, typing away like everybody else, with no eye contact. So, if you like eye contact, I’m sorry–you lost,” he said to laughs.
Schmidt: Google Glass Critics “Afraid of Change,” Society Will Adapt | Xconomy
The lack of eye-contact is pervasive and extends well beyond the Google C-suite. It seems likely that our technologies are encouraging autistic types of behaviors.
We even see it in how tech companies try to use “Big Data” to understand social behavior by customers and communities when empathy is pretty much all you need. It provides insights that data analysis won’t reveal. Lack of empathy towards others is a sign of autism.
There are quite a few tech companies who sit at various points on the autistic spectrum. The disorder isn’t curable but it is treatable and companies with an autistic culture can still lead highly productive lives — they just need some help in playing well with others.
Treatment requires sometimes unplugging from our always-on, always-with-us technologies. Be Here Right Now will be a new mantra and the new manners.
It is derived from the 60s rejoinder but remade for our times, with an emphasis on “right now,” and it implies a real-time environment — a concept familiar to engineers.
We only have ”now.” But our tech steals it from us constantly with shoals of glittery distractions. Sometimes the price is worth paying but other times our technologies get in the way of meaningful experiences.
There’s no such thing as augmented reality, as Google Glass is often described. There’s something in the way — it’s an occluded reality.
Be Here Right Now is scary and great. It’s a good kind of scary to switch off for a while. It’s great for startups because original ideas come from original experiences. Original experiences are those that are found as unfiltered, and untainted by other people’s opinions, curations, and as un-occluded as possible.
It’ll lead to original ideas — increasingly rare in Silicon Valley.
It’s a culture war: SF culture clashing with corporate culture.
The conformity of Silicon Valley’s corporate culture is polar opposite to the non-conformist traditions of San Francisco.
The corporate culture demands isolation in guarded enclaves.
The tech workers think it’s cool to be company men and women, to only use the company store, to eat company food, to only know each other.
- They think it’s cool to be picked up early morning and spend all day at work and get a ride home late evening.
- They think it’s cool that their employer mediate 90% of their experiences during their waking hours.
- They think it’s cool to live in San Francisco and be strangers in their own neighborhoods.
- The company cubicle is now a lot larger than it once was, it is campus-sized. And it picks you up in the morning.
Cubicle cults are not cool and SF locals will tell them so — if they know any.
- They’ll tell them that they are being manipulated by their employer; an employer that organized with other Silicon Valley employers (Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel, Adobe, Pixar) to keep their wages down, and feed them free food so that they think they are ahead. Not cool.
- Their employer likes community conflict over the buses and the vocal persecution of its workers because it reinforces an us-and-them division. Nothing builds a passionate culture faster than persecution. Christianity became unstoppable when it discovered the vitality of its martyrs.
- Being a company man or woman is not cool. They’ll tell them that conformity is a dull way to live a young life.
Conformity breeds contempt in San Francisco. And it does nothing to help stem the massive number of failures in Silicon Valley
Successful startups challenge the way things are. Breeding conformity into tech workers is a very bad strategy. (Maybe their employers are keeping themselves safe from being disrupted by their own workers?)
Google has said that telecommuting works and remote teams perform as well as those in the Googleplex. But if Google allowed telecommuting, its workers might start a Google-killer in their spare time, maybe with other company telecommuters. Best to keep them isolated and strangers in their own neighborhoods.
San Francisco is different from Silicon Valley in very important ways: it has always produced great media content — and the city itself is great content — starring in movies, photos, books, and songs. It inspires creativity.
Silicon Valley produces the tools that enable others to create but it itself is not an inspiring or creative place. Its architecture is plain; it’s workers dress plainly; and its ambitions are plain dull— to make lots of money.
Silicon Valley’s visionaries are unable to look beyond the tech specs of mass produced consumer goods; and 99% of its companies come and go, leaving no trace, no history.
It has been unable to produce any economist or philosopher to help it understand its place in the world, or understand the global social and political trends that surround it.
When the Arab Spring was in full flow Silicon Valley companies thought they were the revolutionaries, that tweets counted for more than feet on the streets; that a Facebook group is how political change is organized.
Wasted human capital…
Silicon Valley is a large business park attached to two excellent universities, funded by capitalists that live on one road, and who can’t beat the ten-year 8.5% average annual return of an S&P500 Index fund.
More than 90% of their investments fail and this is despite having access to the best educated workforce in the world.
The inability of Sand Hill Road’s VCs to pick and build world-class companies, in the best place on earth to build great companies, is tragic and it sets back the entire world.
Funds are easy…
A billion dollar fund is easy to raise but it takes decades to raise tens of thousands of highly skilled engineers. It’s a senseless waste of scarce talent that VCs put them to work inside me-too startups, instead of working on things that matter.
The Internet of Things is aptly named — bland and uninspiring. Things are just things, the Internet of life is what matters.
Silicon Valley has a business park culture that is unsentimental and unaware of itself. San Francisco is fighting to preserve its culture from being sucked into its flat lands and indistinguishable streets.
The streets of San Francisco are dirty and steep but they reach for the sky and have touched and stirred the souls of billions of people.
It’s no wonder that its residents are fighting so hard to defend its unique nature.
It’s a wonder that Silicon Valley employers don’t understand the fuss over their buses, and why they can’t run their corporate culture into San Francisco. It’s an epic clash of cultures.
It’s sad to see San Francisco gradually becoming a sleepy bedroom community to a business park. It’s a city of restaurants that close at 10pm and clubs that turn down the music.
I’m hopeful that Silicon Valley companies will see the bugs floating in their Kool-Aid, that using the city as a hostel at night, while isolating their workers all day in campus enclaves, is a bad strategy. It makes them strangers in their own neighborhoods.
Far better to let their workers telecommute from local coffee shops and bars; it’s far better to let them stay close to home and get to know the people and history of this amazing city.
Original ideas come from original experiences. And San Francisco can provide a treasure trove of experiences for Silicon Valley to mine and monetize — instead of running it over with their buses.
Photo credit: NYTimes.com.
The Internet Archive in San Francisco is asking for help in recovering from a two-alarm fire that caused more than $600,000 in damage.
The archive often compares its mission to that of the famous library of Alexandria, Egypt, destroyed by fire more than 2,000 years ago. It underscores that connection with banks of mirror servers located in Alexandria.
Sarah B. reporting for RichmondSFBlog:
Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said the 7 to 10 office staff that worked in the building will temporarily relocate to their Richmond, CA facility. The damaged building was originally built in the 1940′s and used as a Christian Science reading room.
The former church next door, which also belongs to the Internet Archive, was not damaged in the fire.
Kahle was in remarkably good spirits when we spoke to him around 9am this morning, and was optimistic about their plans to rebuild the office. He said they mostly lost electronic equipment including cameras and scanners, and thankfully no cultural materials were destroyed in the fire. He said he was still waiting for word from the SFFD on what exactly caused the fire.
The fire comes just two weeks after the Internet Archive announced a series of new initiatives, some were in response to NSA snooping.
Strangely, I counted only 11 panelists (math wasn’t on the list), which included Silicon Valley VC John Doerr; Joi Ito from MIT Media Lab; and the perennial favorite of every editor: whoever happens to be around the office at the time, which in this case was The Atlantic’s senior editor Alexis Madrigal.
The list starts off with:
The printing press (1430s not the earlier Chinese one).
Then you have all the ones you’d expect: electricity, semiconductors, optics, internal combustion engine, Internet, of course. But they missed the most important technology breakthrough of all time: Gastronomy.
The editors said they wanted to list the most important innovations since the wheel, or about 6,000 years ago, so that they could avoid listing fire. But that makes little sense because fire is not an invention but a natural phenomenon.
And some recent civilizations, such as those in the Americas, didn’t use the wheel for transportation, or like the Mayans used the wheel only for toys.
The Atlantic could have just said 50 most important breakthroughs (fire and wheel not included).
Mind expanding technology
When we developed the technology of cooking it literally blew our minds — our brain size quadrupled and our stomachs shrank. We became much smarter and we looked fabulous — what other breakthrough technology did that?!
Gastronomy unlocked a vast amount of energy in raw food and we used it to build a much larger brain.
But that brain had to be used for serious things because it is very expensive to maintain, requiring 25% of daily calories in the form of high octane glucose for just 2.5% body mass. And the brain has to be fed 24/7 even if other organs have to be shutdown.
The cooking pot allowed us to build a Ferrari of a brain, expensive to maintain but incredible in performance.
We left the other raw food primates in the dust and now we’re on the doorstep of our next big leap forward, into the mashed-up singularity of some kind of bio-digital reality.
Cooking gave us time to think. Eating raw food takes a tremendous amount of time to chew enough to fulfill daily needs, and so does foraging for it when you haven’t figured out yet how to grow it.
Innovation comes from thinking. In fact, when you think about it, all good things in our society come from having the time to think.
If gastronomy hadn’t been invented there would be no civilization, science, arts, computer technologies, or top 50 lists because we wouldn’t have the time to invent them all — we’d still be chewing.
Photo: Gastronomy at the San Francisco Exploratorium.
Japan’s plummeting birth rate is being partly blamed on young males called “Otaku” who show far more interest in computers and comic books than sex.
Tokyo’s Akihabara district (below) is filled with gadget and manga book stores and is the favorite hangout for Otaku, reports Anita Rani, for the BBC: The Japanese men who prefer virtual girlfriends to sex
Unless something happens to boost Japan’s birth rate, its population will shrink by a third between now and 2060. One reason for the lack of babies is the emergence of a new breed of Japanese men, the otaku, who love manga, anime and computers — and sometimes show little interest in sex…
Akihabara, an area of the city dedicated to the manga and anime subculture provides one clue to the country’s problems. Akihabara is heaven for otaku.
Kunio Kitamara, of the Japan Family Planning Association, describes many young Japanese men as “herbivores” — passive and lacking carnal desire.
Above, a guide spells out the rules for Akihabara tour.
A survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2010 found 36% of Japanese males aged 16 to 19 had no interest in sex — a figure that had doubled in the space of two years.
Even Japanese men in a relationship don’t have much sex, a recent survey found that less than 27% had sex at least once a week.
The Akihabara district is packed with computer, gadget and Manga book stores
The lack of sexual desire could be linked to the poor economic prospects of millennials in Japan compared with their parent’s generation. Their lousy socioeconomic position seems to have led to a collective loss of libido — they’ve lost their mojo.
Roland Kelts, a Tokyo-based social commentator, said:
“If you compare China or Vietnam, most of those kids on scooters going to nightclubs, and dancing their heart away and perhaps having sex — they know it’s getting better, they know they are probably going to rock their parents’ income,” he says. “No-one in Japan feels that way.”
Life-size Manga characters and anatomically correct robot in an Akihabara store
Does the US have a similar Otaku sub-culture? We should look because there’s lots about the Japanese story that is similar to here. Our male millennials love comic books, gadgets, and computers; their job prospects are lousy; plus they carry huge college debt loads; and many have to rely on their parents.
The same lousy cultural and socioeconomic factors are at play for US, and also European millennials. I’d be surprised if a survey didn’t find a sizable population of Otaku.
And how can we help them find their mojo? Because a related problem is hikikomori: young men who shut themselves away in their rooms for years. A Japanese Cabinet Office survey from 2010 found 700,000 but there could be as many as 1 million hikikomori.
Below, seen in an Akihabara store - a man’s tie with a USB-powered fan to cool you off if you get hot under the collar — won’t be needed by Otaku.
Twitter robotics and other technology geeks work in plush surrounds and eat oysters and lamb chops, outside HQ (above) on the south-side of mid-Market Street is San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood — the Tenderloin. I was walking to an event at Moscone and took a few pictures of the neighborhood.
There’s not much chance for gentrification when all workers stay inside and clean their apartments, and washes their clothes, and feeds them for free. Competing with local services is the opposite of gentrification. For the young engineers it’s great it’s like being back at mom’s, free food and clean laundry, and without having to deal with mom.
Gary Kamiya tells stories on SFGate.com, from the history of San Francisco and its newspaper archives. It’s a rich history for such a small city, and it’s a strong literary history, too, which is apt with Silicon Valley becoming a Media Valley.
This week Mr. Kamiya tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s visit to San Francisco in 1882, as part of strange promotional stunt for a Gilbert & Sullivan opera lampooning the Aesthetes, an English artistic and literary set enamored with a “Cult of Beauty,” a heightened level of sensitivity to the beauty of nature, and in the decor of their surroundings — rooms, furniture, and even wallpaper.
[San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum last year hosted an excellent "Cult of Beauty" exhibit with several pre-Raphaelite artists represented, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti; William Morris graphics design; and Aubrey Beardsley.]
Oscar Wilde was young, just 28 years old but already well known in London for his literary and other achievements, mostly on a very public stage of London society. He was considered a leading light of the Aesthetes, even though after three decades, it was on its way out.
A withered bouquet and a sombrero…
He made a memorable first impression on his arrival San Francisco, the tall, stocky young man quickly attracted a curious crowd, and no wonder:
He was flamboyantly dressed in a black velvet coat ornamented with a withered bouquet, highly polished pointed shoes and a velvet waistcoat. His long hair hung below a Mexican-style sombrero.
The promoter of the opera paid Wilde $5,000 to go on a lecture tour of the US, so that San Francisco and other cities, could see and meet a member of the Cult of Beauty and thus find the resulting Gilbert & Sullivan performance understandable and hilarious when it arrived later.
… offensively daft
He was scheduled for four lectures in San Francisco. I find this fact hard to believe but Wilde was a terrible public speaker and many reviews were horrible. Here’s one from Ambrose Bierce:
“There was never an impostor so hateful, a blockhead so stupid, a crank so variously and offensively daft.”
Wilde always seemed to know how to impress those around him, and for some congregations it didn’t require incisive wit. During his visit, he was invited to a reception at the city’s notorious Bohemian Club.
The merry pranksters assumed that the foppish import was, like his literary alter ego Bunthorne, a hopeless twit, a sunflower-sniffing pansy. They planned to get the “Miss Nancy” drunk and make a fool of him…
Before, during and after dinner, the Bohemians kept pouring drinks, expecting Wilde to lose it, but the beefy, 200-pound Irishman kept downing them and calling for more. Soon it was the rootin’ tootin’ sons of the Wild West who were collapsing in a drunken heap, their would-be mark still emptying his glass and continuing his urbane conversation.
It is said that the members of the Bohemian Club, filled with newfound respect for the “three-bottle man,” commissioned a portrait of Wilde to hang in the club. Wilde returned the compliment to the city, saying he had fallen in love with San Francisco.
Never ever, try to out-drink an Irishman — even if he is dressed as a “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”
Mr. Kamiya makes a touching observation: “It was a happy episode in the early life of a great writer, later to be destroyed by Victorian homophobia, in the city that would someday become a beacon of gay pride for the world.”
Gary Kamiya is a co-founder of Salon and executive editor of SF Mag. He has a new book “Cool Gray City of Love,” about San Francisco, it looks great. Here is Clara Jeffery from the New York Times:
To tell the geo-politico-psycho history of a city as prismatic as San Francisco, and to do it as skillfully as Kamiya does, is no small undertaking…
San Francisco is a metropolis molded, far more than most, by topography and weather, and Kamiya artfully helps us imagine the landscape as it once was: a place of mostly windswept dunes where nomadic bands of American Indians traveled between summer and winter camps, along trails whose contours still exist.
Photo of Oscar Wilde in in America, 1882, 28 years old.