There seems to be a trend of people declaring that tech is the new Hollywood, and I think they might be right. I’ve lived in Los Angeles a long time, and I can tell you first-hand that while Hollywood employs some of the most talented people in the world and dominates the global industries of film, television, and music, it is also a magnet for con men, do-nothing dreamers, and various leeches of every sort. This dichotomy of incredible talent and those just looking to bask in its reflected glow is the price the entertainment industry pays for being cool. And with tech’s newfound cool factor, Silicon Valley is looking a lot like Hollywood…in all the worst ways.
A few years ago, a wannabe actor friend of mine was lamenting his failure to pursue his dreams and in a moment of honest reflection he said to me, “I’ve been in LA for three years and haven’t done anything but party. I’m like a guy who says his dream is to be a rockstar but all he does is go to concerts and hang out.” Replace “rockstar” with “entrepreneur” and “concerts” with “conferences” and this should sound familiar to anyone who’s been around the current tech scene. There are a whole lot of people dreaming about being entrepreneurs but all they do is go to conferences and hang out.
Another parallel between Hollywood and the new Silicon Valley is the existence of a hype machine that favors the noisiest and least talented. In LA, this manifests itself as Kim Kardashian and The Situation getting ten times the press as Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg. In San Francisco, one need only look at conference speaker line-ups that often consists of people who haven’t accomplished anything except raising an angel round and amassing Twitter followers to see that we’re doing the same thing. The result is we’ve created a culture of tech celebs who, like Paris Hilton, are famous for little or nothing.
The most recent development in the tech industry’s emulation of Hollywood is the rise of groupies and how they’ve shaped the public image of the industry. A few years ago, a TV executive friend of mine who had just opened a Twitter account was asking me who these seemingly connected people on social media really were. Not being deeply immersed in the world of tech, it looked to him like an amazing ecosystem of people were coalescing around the Internet space. After some difficulty trying to explain the facade, I said, “You know when there’s a Hollywood party or a small movie premiere, it’s basically a bunch of struggling actors and wannabes who are there and not really the producers or even the crew? That’s basically the same thing you’re seeing at these tech events.” He nodded his understanding.
That brings me to the final frightening parallel between the new tech scene and the worst parts of Hollywood. Viewed through the lens of social media wankers, BravoTV, and indiscriminate tech blogs, people in the rest of the world think they’re seeing the real world of technology and Silicon Valley entrepreneurship which exacerbates the problem. In the same way kids in Kentucky are led to believe Los Angeles is nothing but MTV and Baywatch and buy one-way bus tickets to come here to be part of the scene, the public image of tech has become increasingly dominated by these vapid images that are driving a self fulfilling cycle of unproductive bullshit.
For a long time the technology industry has had a kind of inferiority complex about its lack of coolness compared to the entertainment industry. Now that tech has become the new “cool” with Hollywood players chasing programmers to invest money and our very own reality stars proclaiming to the world that “geeks are definitely the new rockstars,” it looks like Silicon Valley has achieved everything it always wanted. It’s the new hot spot, the new dreamland, the new center of cool, and with all of the good comes a whole lot of bad. I guess the old adage still holds true, be careful what you wish for.
Welcome to the new Silicon Valley. Welcome to the new La-La Land.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]