Silicon Valley's loathsome side is ready for its closeup again, judging from the recent press. You know, the side that says it deserves a tech bubble even as it insists none is forming; the side that's greedy but pretends money doesn't matter; and the side that dresses up clubby insularity as a virtue.
Begin your tour of the repulsive version of the Valley with this New York Times article about the new tech boom. Look specifically at the quotes, like the one from entitled venture capitalist Rory O'Driscoll who says, by way of denying there's a tech bubble, that "it's a little bit party-poopy to go from 'the world is ending because no one is investing' to 'the world is ending because everything is so overpriced,' without going through the middle part where we all make money."
Seriously. Why can't we just let VCs have their regular plutocrat party time after they starve American employers and before they explode American employers in an endless bubble cycle of their own creation? Do we not care about their God given right to make money systematically wrecking ordinary people's retirement investments?
Next, steer your asshole sightseeing bus to one of the many self aggrandizing quotes from rich people pretending they are not rich, or that they don't care about money, a longstanding staple of Valley bullshit. Russian VC Yuri Millner's $100 million Valley chateau is described to the Times by one local executive as unacceptably ostentatious; rich Valley guys are supposed to wear T shirts to the office, like the executive who told the paper "You never change the way you dress — you don't want to flaunt it, especially in front of your employees." Mark Zuckerberg may have built a multi-billion dollar fortune violating his users' privacy, but he comes in for praise for the modesty of his $7 million mansion.
Nice clothes and huge estates are out, but what is socially acceptable in the Valley is to put "$25,000 or $100,000 into a friend's start-up to keep the cycle going," as the Times puts it. But doing so isn't an "investment" so much as as a form of conspicuous consumption: "It's not about making it back," startup co-founder Alex Rampell tells the paper. "It's about feeling good - and doing what's accepted." Enjoy the view of this ridiculous Valley groupthink: Spending money to live well is gaudy, but gambling money to elevate yourself from rich to superrich is friendly and socially constructive.
Gander next up to San Francisco and the new crop of dot-com-ish launch parties. See, you're also allowed to spend money gaudily if it's for business. Airbnb, which profusely apologized recently for a scandal in which its customer service agents repeatedly ignored a woman whose apartment was wrecked by an Airbnb guest, celebrated the opening of its new offices with Skee Ball, free cocktails, and MC Hammer. The NYT snapped some photos of the Airbnb rager before heading over to a party thrown by Foursquare, whose surreal founder Dennis Crowley explained that he wanted to "make some noise" about the wildly unprofitable company's new San Francisco office and maybe attract some engineers to hire. Burning money for vague branding purposes sounds very 2000, but this time it's totally different, we're sure.
It might sound clubby and inbred, this side of Silicon Valley that emphasizes making money for your friends, unloading junk on stock investors, and deceiving employees and neighbors about your wealth. Just keep in mind this is all intended to take your eye off the ball. Whether it's MC Hammer working the mic at an office opening or bonus hungry executives schlepping around in sandals and T shirts, the idea is that you'll pay no attention to the small circle of people who end up making real money off this bubble and the considerably larger circle of fools who will pay for it, and instead get distracted by the meaningless baubles. Enjoy looking at the shiny things but keep your hand on your wallet.
[Photo of Hammer at the Airbnb party via Vince Maniago/Flickr]