“I am still not over the fact people aren’t hyperventilating about this in coffee shops while high on coffee-grind fumes” said Washington Post editor Emi Kolawole on Twitter, in response to a message I had written saying she should relax and stop worrying about government shutdowns—now that she is in Silicon Valley.
Kolawole, a long time Washington, D.C., resident, is on a one-year sabbatical at Stanford University. Her comments illustrate the stark difference in the reaction to the government shutdown between the two coasts. True, most of Silicon Valley’s inhabitants aren’t experiencing the misery that furloughed government employees are. But the Valley seems totally oblivious to what is happening in the nation’s capital.
Note the reaction of the tech blogs. The only coverage on TechCrunch was an article about how a government website for comparing health insurance prices wasn’t functioning properly; VentureBeat wrote exactly one sentence “Government employees are not getting paid today, but the private sector is booming with 8 major funding announcements”; Gigaom had a three-line post complaining that NASA won’t be able to redirect asteroids.
It’s not that Silicon Valley won’t be affected. Regulations that affect the tech industry are stalled; visa processing for the immigrants that tech companies need has ground to a halt; national parks that Californians frequent are closed; and websites like those that TechCrunch complained of—as well as important government services—will be unavailable. Companies that depend on government contracts will also take a major revenue hit. At Singularity University, which is on the grounds of the NASA Ames Research Center (where I head innovation and research), we have been scrambling desperately for alternative teaching space because of maintenance problems in our classroom building. NASA has had to furlough nearly all employees.
Yes, all these are minor inconveniences compared to the turmoil that Washington, D.C., and other parts of the nation are experiencing. But the reaction of the tech blogs very aptly reflects the Valley’s “don’t care” attitude about government. What the Valley cares about—and what its tech blogs have fixated on—is the complicity of technology companies in NSA snooping. A common belief is that government needs to stay away from the tech industry.
Perhaps it is best this way. Rather than fighting unproductive and destructive battles about budgets and health insurance, our innovators are chugging along inventing technologies that will make industries more productive and reduce the cost of healthcare. They are doing what they do best—looking forward, competing, and collaborating. Someone has to save the economy after all. Our politicians certainly won’t.