Is the Future Going to Happen Somewhere Else?
I noticed that
Chris Campbell's blog
often includes a note about what music he was listening to as he
wrote. This seems like a nice personal touch so I thought I'd copy
it. I'm listening to a funny John Prine song about predicting the
future and the chorus goes like this:
We are living in the future, I'll tell you how I know
I read it in the paper fifteen years ago
We're all driving rocket ships and talking with our minds
Wearing turquoise jewelry and standing in soup lines
As we get closer to the future this seems less funny. It's not
because I don't like turquoise jewelry or because my rocket ship seats
seven - but not comfortably. Here in Silicon valley the software
business is changing. That's not saying much, it's hard to imagine
any business that's changed as much as our has in the last twenty
years. What's not funny is that much of the work is leaving for other
places and other countries where it can be done more cheaply.
A long time ago, when I was in college, I had a front row seat for the
final act of the Disappearance of the Steel Industry in Pittsburgh
Pennsylvania. It had become cheaper to manufacture steel elsewhere
and to have the work down by other people. It never occurred to me
that the industry I was hoping to join might suffer the same slow
fate. Of course it is, just as surely as one can increase profits by
cutting costs. Last week the local paper's technology section
included a column that gleefully warned the "Larry Lunchpails" of
Silicon valley that their mid-level technology jobs were headed to
Beijing and Bangalore. This is hardly a breaking story, in fact I
noticed that the most popular
java.net blog from August
is a call to arms about the very same topic.
If current trends persist, one has to wonder what will become of the
software engineering business here in Silicon Valley. Will an aging
Ross Perot announce that he has finally found the source of the "giant
sucking sound" he first heard back in 1996? Will some industry pundit
finally be right about the biotech industry? Will there be souplines?
I'm thinking that the answer can be found in Microsoft's market share
and in computer viruses.
Microsoft's software runs on more than ninety percent of the computers
connected to the internet. It has become the dank fetid breeding
ground for computer viruses, a mosquito infested swamp that needs to
be drained. And why are our Microsoftware computers so vulnerable?
Why is it that each successive computer plague leaves an even bigger
infestation than the last one? It's not (just) because Microsoft has
a unique talent for creating the gaping security holes that computer
viruses flow through. It's because their success has created a
monoculture and any farmer will tell you that monocultures are highly
susceptible to disease epidemics. Our computer farm lacks variety.
Which brings me back to Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley is a diverse place. We're multicultural on many
levels, from the places we come from to the places we think
technology should go. Silicon Valley boosters will tell you that
we're more innovative or that we work harder (but please don't say
"work smarter") or that the entrepreneurial spirit is stronger here
than anywhere else. I'm glad to believe that it's all true however I
think the reason we're going to thrive in spite of the gravitational
pull generated by lower costs is because of our differences. I don't
know what idea is going to trigger the next economic boom however I'm
confident that creative thoughts buzzing around in the brain of each
technology dreamer here in Silicon Valley are unique. Most of those
ideas will fuel little more than insomnia however thanks to large
numbers it's inevitable that a few of them will be great. Insanely
great. And because they're here, the individuals who possess the
great ideas will not be able to avoid bumping into neighbors and
friends and aquaintances who will help them get the next gold rush
rolling. Right here.