Recently, Dan Primack of Fortune asked, “Why does America ‘hate’ Silicon Valley?” Is it, the sub-headline ventured, because it’s “jealous”? Primack was responding to an unnamed source who asked him why so many of us vilify those who work in Silicon Valley.
In his post Primack offered a few possible reasons, including “insular narcissism — the general feeling that as long as tech is thriving no one else matters — and the cozy relationship between the tech industry and the press that covers it. His source put forth her own theory: Tech companies that disrupt the established order eventually become the establishment, and therefore become targets for criticism.
Now, I am a fan of Primack’s, and subscribe to his “Term Sheet” newsletter, but I think he’s based his argument on a faulty assumption. There’s no proof that Americans hate or vilify Silicon Valley. Actually, the evidence suggests the opposite.
A Gallup poll conducted in August ranked the computer industry as the one Americans rate the most positively, and we all know where the computer industry calls home. Meanwhile, the “Internet industry” came in fourth, beating out Travel, Retail, Grocery and Publishing.
What’s more, Fortune’s own list of the “World’s Most Admired Companies 2013″ places Apple first, followed by Google, and both are Silicon Valley stalwarts. The third company on the list, Amazon, is headquartered in Washington, as is Microsoft (17th), but I suspect many would lump them in with Silicon Valley. Intel, eBay, Facebook, and Cisco also made the list. So Silicon Valley is home to six (or eight if you include Microsoft and Amazon) of the top 50 most admired companies in the world.
What’s more, you could argue that singling out Silicon Valley is disingenuous because Americans hate business executives of all stripes, at least that’s what another Gallup poll found. In a survey rating American’s perception of the relative honesty and ethical standards of various professions, business executives ranked in the bottom third, barely beating out lawyers, insurance people, HMO managers, members of Congress and used car salesmen.
In essence, what we have here is a problem of perception by those with a problem of perception. The data doesn’t support the notion that Americans hate Silicon Valley. But I don’t doubt that many in Silicon Valley — and the journalists who cover it — believe that Americans hate Silicon Valley.
Since people in media, many of them on the East Coast, are often critical of Silicon Valley — some publications exist solely to poke needles into the pomposities of Silicon Valley luminaries — they filter coverage to reflect their own worldview, assuming the rest of America must feel the same way. But it doesn’t, at least if the surveys I cited are to be believed.
Let’s flip the entire argument on its head. Name me one industry that you think Americans don’t vilify. America hates journalists, right. America hates unions. It hates the auto industry. It hates the financial and banking sectors. It hates Agro-business. It hates military contractors. It hates lawyers. It hates government, especially Congress. It hates the healthcare industry. It hates cable companies and telecommunications oligarchs. It hates the music industry and Hollywood. If you buy that, Silicon Valley is only one of many.
Or perhaps, despite what the polls tell us, Americans despise Silicon Valley but love individual tech companies like Apple and Google? If so, then I guess it’s the same dynamic that exists when we say we hate lawyers but like our own attorneys, or detest members of Congress but enthusiastically vote for our own representatives. By that logic, we may hate Detroit automakers but love Tesla, despise the music industry but love Spotify and Pandora, and adore and hate Starbucks all at the same time.
As for me, I don’t buy the idea that Americans hate Silicon Valley. Actually, I think most people just don’t care.
While Silicon Valley-ites may have a persecution complex, that doesn’t mean America is out to get them.
Image via Silicon Angle.