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The Case Against the Perma-Boom

As told to Caleb Pershan | September 20, 2013 | Story Tech World

As a sidebar to Farhad Manjoo's cover story "The Care and Feeding of a Tech Boom," we asked Paul Carr, former TechCrunch columnist and current editor-in-chief of NSFWCORP, to argue for the opposition.

I’ve never been comfortable with this idea of a bubble, because that suggests there’ll be a gigantic correction—we’re reminded of tulip bulbs—implying that the value is artificial or imagined or at least very short-lived. It suggests a crash. That was the case during the last tech boom, when we were trying to sell building supplies by mail across the country for free. But I think that this time, we’re not going to suddenly go, “You know what, fuck it, let’s go back to letter writing.” Global connectivity and innovation isn’t going anywhere.

However, predicting that a boom will last forever is the journalistic equivalent of the moment in a movie where someone says, “Nothing could possibly go wrong.” To say that the Bay Area will remain at the center of tech forever doesn’t pass a basic world history test. Nothing ever stays at the center of anything forever. I say this as a Brit—we spent a long time saying the sun would never set on the British Empire, and now look at us!

The argument rings especially false when you consider the technologies coming out of Silicon Valley, which are all about allowing people to have access to things wherever they are. The idea that we all need to be in the same room has been disproved by, guess who, Silicon Valley. We have things like AngelList, tech news sites that allow you to feel like you’re in the heart of the Valley when you’re not. Sitting here in Vegas, I don’t feel any less connected to the tech scene than I would if I were standing at Fourth and Townsend right now. Spotify didn’t come out of Silicon Valley. Skype didn’t come out of Silicon Valley.

The idea that the Bay Area has some magical power? We hear this every time there’s a long period of prosperity anywhere. “Well, maybe this time economics won’t apply.” And then we’re like, “Oh, it crashed, who knew!” Obviously, in 500 years we’ll be giving tours of the ruins of San Francisco, if we’ve learned anything from Planet of the Apes.

Originally published in the October 2013 issue of San Francisco

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