Thursday, March 27, 2014
Tech as Talisman
Old songs are fun to call up from time to time in a way that old tech isn’t. I’ll happily stream Duran Duran over devices that didn’t exist when they were hungry like the wolf. (For that matter, I’ll happily read Aristotle on a kindle.) I may not be able to explain how or why the new devices work, but that’s okay. They’re amazing, and they offer a kind of hope. When all that patience gets tiring, there’s something gratifying about seeing the latest gadget do something entirely new.
Also, within 100 miles of Stanford there are 6 universities with excellent engineering and business schools (SJSU, SFSU, CSUEB, UCB, UCD, and UCSC) so there are slews of worker bees ready to come make whatever fanciful "next best thing" you can imagine. And now, in an unholy alliance between academia and industry, we have a constant supply of cheap engineers from India and China to keep labor costs low. Rich people that live up in the hills all around Silicon Valley are ready and willing to invest in the "next big thing" rather than other types of investments so here, you have the perfect combination of talent and money which leads to innovation. This would never get built today under the current regime because the investments in higher ed that made it possible on the state side in the 50’s and 60’s are impossible now under Prop 13. But we still take advantage of our old infrastructure.
As for Europe – didn’t you have a Nokia phone ever? They were so cool for a while! But Nokia didn’t invest enough into the design of their user interface and at the end of the day failed to anticipate the importance of smart phones. And that’s what most tech efforts outside of California fall prey to after a while – companies find something that’s great and try to perfect it rather than developing the next new thing. It’s hard to feel the urgency of evolution when you are not surrounded by restless caffeine driven geniuses you find in every Starbuck’s here or when you think you’re too big to fail (Apple, HP – I’m looking at yoooou!) Even the Kindle – brain child of Jeff Bezos – was developed by Amazon Lab 126 which has 2 offices in Silicon Valley. Being here matters. It makes you work harder when you are surrounded by smart, hard-working people. And people want to stay here despite the astronomical cost of living because the weather is beautiful and people are nice even if you’re a little different (there are more languages spoken per capita in the SF Bay Area than in any other part of the world so we are all a little different!) and there’s a million things to do and the food is AMAZING. It’s not about the US v. Europe. It’s about Silicon Valley v. anywhere else in the world.
Those patent licenses, among many others, are what Microsoft bought.
And don't overlook the Blackberry, developed in Canada, which also holds some really valuable patents.