August 7, 2008.
Recently I finished reading Po Bronson's The Nudist on the Late Shift, and its been an interesting read. I read an old copy of the book that was loaned to me. Old in the sense that the subtitle has since been changed from And Other Tales of Silicon Valley to And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley. It's also old in the sense that it still has its original bland cover, instead of its current cover which was apparently salvaged from the image graveyard where the original cover of Cliff Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg was discarded 1.
By now you've noticed where I'm going here: my copy of the book is old. If we run with the concept of internet time that Bronson quotes from one of his subjects, then we might verily claim that the book is ancient: its copyright is from 1999. Fortunately, The Nudist on the Late Shift is a fine wine that has blossomed into ripeness with age. The book's core premise is that Silicon Valley is an immutable and unstoppable force, some kind of permanent revolution filled with amazing characters and flush with insane quantities of money. This is a premise that likely got lamented with some frequency in the years immediately following 1999, but seems to regained validity in the current era, as the Valley's irrational exuberance reasserted itself by investing heavily in trendy Web 2.0 creations; a collection of dubiously useful web services identifiable by slick user interfaces and an almost pathelogical lack of business models. Yes indeed, In 2008, the Valley is once again alive and well, filled with the hubhub of business.
However, a second theme exists in Bronson's crisp narrative, and while Bronson is kind enough to not bludgeon us with it, it strikes me as far more important. While chasing the beat of internet capitalism's acid-tripping drummer, are we actually creating value? When asking this question, Bronson wants us to move past the obvious answer: of course we're creating value, we're getting paid (its equally easy to answer with a resounding hell no, like the writers of Uncov). Instead, what happens when we consider where our technology will be taking us in ten years? Would we be building these same projects if we weren't fixated on next quarters profits or next month's rent?
Like Bronson, I'll take the easy path out: I only want to ask the question of others, and am not ready to answer it myself. I am not a free software advocate with the luxury to campaign for ubiquitous software freedom while living on a professor's salary, so I can hardly argue against the necessity of income. At the same time, couldn't so many talented and devoted individuals being creating things more inspired than the quagmire that trendy (and by trend I really I mean outdated or perhaps simply unknowledgeable) business magazines call Web 2.0?
Since I purchased my copy long ago, The Cuckoo's Egg has replaced its picture of a dude hunched at a computer with a picture of a dude... walking... ominously. Because, what better to let the buyer know its a story of international hacking and espionage than a picture of a dude walking?↩