Silicon Valley is dead, long live Silicon Valley!
As summer approaches, fog covers the streets of San Francisco accompanied by the penetrating cold that characterizes it. It’s like that every year. And every year, since Silicon Valley became Silicon Valley (the early 1960s), critics have rolled over the region like Karl The Fog * from the Ocean.
When it’s blurry, it’s because there is a wolf!
The scarecrows that scream at the great technological manipulator are awakening. Usually with as much opportunism as delay. We hear them claim that the region only creates monopolies (which is actually quite true), that it vampirizes our data (also true), that it monopolizes our lives and the attention of our children with its screens and its invasive applications (exact… 90% of the time spent on our smartphones is spent with a company in the Valley: Facebook, Youtube, Linkedin, Google, Netflix…). A Cambridge Analytica will “reveal” what everyone has known for a long time! Facebook monetizes our data and what it does with it is not that clear! As if we hadn’t understood that “when it’s free, it’s me the product”, or even that “when it’s blurry it’s because there is a wolf” according to the famous expression of the Mayor of Lille. The embarrassed, and very unconvincing, explanations of Mark Zuckerberg reflect as much the ignorance of those who question him, such as the show these American senatorss, that the somewhat feigned naivety of the leaders of these companies who have taken an increasingly strong part in our lives.
The disrupting machine is disturbing, what a surprise….
Because the role that Silicon Valley has given itself remains to be disruptive at all costs. And disruption disturbs. It disturbs even deeply when it is well done. Is it surprising? The region does it, with systematism and passion, always partly carried by the values of the counter culture dear to May 68 or the Libertarianism of Peter Thiel, see the transhumanist ideas of the founders of the Singularity University. These ideas transgress the established order, shake up habits and laws, transform our lives, without us have always chosen it. But what if the problem was there?
Internet philosopher Jaron Lanier, one of Silicon Valley’s most brilliant analysts, framed the problem perfectly in this fascinating Ted talk delivered in April this year in Vancouver. The problem is that we made structuring choices in the early days of the Internet. In particular the choice of an Internet conceived as a public good, to which access is admittedly chargeable but whose content is generally free and open. This choice is overwhelmingly a choice of Silicon Valley and of the large companies that we know today: Google, Facebook… But, Lanier tells us “we cannot have a Company in which if two people want to communicate, they cannot only do so if it is financed by a third party who wants to manipulate them ”. It may not be too late, Lanier said, but we’re going to have to pay for what was once “free”. Are we ready? And shouldn’t we have realized this sooner?
Also, the anti-facebook of today (if such an established group exists…) are fighting against decisions taken in the Valley more than 10 years ago. And their fight, certainly valid, forces them to confront titans who were nothing when these questions should have been asked and they were allowed to weigh, which seems very difficult to us today.
It’s not too late… for the next battle.
It is therefore very late to fight. And even if we win this fight, Silicon Valley, in 10 years, has not stopped disrupting. Our problem is our blindness and our lack of understanding of what is really going on in the region. It’s easy for us to criticize Facebook, but it’s largely unnecessary when the company now has two billion users, most of them happy, even “addicted”. And especially because in San Francisco … everyone doesn’t care. It’s a fight in a vacuum. We have long been focused on the next disruption.
The subjects of the region, treated today in the laboratories of Stanford and the giants of the net, but especially in the garages where entrepreneurs invent, will have even greater and fundamental impacts on our societies and our very lives. . When you talk about data in the rest of the world, we talk about Artificial Intelligence, eternal life, singularity and we invest in these subjects tens of billions of dollars per year! The Silicon Valley that you see, behind the fog, is not the one that is being built today. Silicon Valley is dead, do you think? Long live Silicon Valley! You should all come and see. In fact, it’s even a must if you want to have a say before it’s too late.
* nickname for fog in San Francisco
Dominique Piotet is CEO of FABERNOVEL in the United States and director in charge of international development for the FABERNOVEL group. Dominique has more than 15 years of experience in digital strategy with large groups.
He founded Rebellion Lab in 2010, a digital strategy consulting firm located in Silicon Valley and acquired by the FABERNOVEL group in 2015. Before creating Rebellion Lab, he was in charge of the e-business strategy of La Poste Group and of that of BNP Paribas. He was CEO of Atelier BNP Paribas in San Francisco.