I just came across a great article by Nathaniel Whittemore at change.org about whether or not Silicon Valley can really change the world. I have no doubt in my mind that there are some fantastic people in the Valley that, can will and are working towards doing just that. But I also know those are rarely the startup success stories that find attention at Tech Crunch, Venturebeat or similar blogs. Not to say that these blogs don’t do a great job at what they do, there’s certainly no obligation for them to cover any company other than what they deem editorially worthy. It’s just that (like Nathaniel astutely puts it) ‘it’s not even the same sport’. In other words, groups that are literally working towards social impact using technology aren’t even on their radar.
What I see is a Valley that’s somewhat oblivious to what it can actually do to change the world. Whether that be the startups that it could support or the entrepreneurs it could put forth as success stories, I really just don’t see enough people who actually are given enough credit for doing it in a way that doesn’t look like an Amazon or a Google. And yes, Amazon, Google, Zappos, Twitter etc. all changed the daily lives of people all over the world TREMENDOUSLY. But so have Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS, Open Data Kit and Samasource etc. It’s not a question of who’s changing the world more, it’s who’s world is being changed and how.
So now I can call up companies that don’t even sell pizza, order a pizza, and they’ll still deliver it to me. Great. (Editor’s note: really happened.)
But when it comes to offering people who’ve never in their lives had any sort of income, jobs via mobile devices, it barely registers.
Secondly, most companies that end up changing the world do it by accident. I’m sure when Twitter was invented, Jack Dorsey and company had no idea a young Ugandan would use it to microblog his way through a riot, bullets whizzing past, and tanks rolling in. Likewise, I really doubt Sergey and Larry dreamed of all the things Google would one day be used for. Nor, probably, did Tim Berners-Lee when he laid the groundwork for the web.
Finally, I’m not sure Silicon Valley needs to worry about changing the world. They’ve done such a good job of doing it without actually trying that change will inevitably come. With so many brilliant, successful people in such a small area, they can afford to not even think about it. Saying ‘we are here to change the world’ while not really supporting the claim comes across as a bit shallow if you ask me. If you want to really do that, great. But if you’re there to pocket a few million before you hit thirty, nothing wrong with that either.
The motivation of people around the globe looking for innovative solutions to the worlds biggest problems (or smallest), should be to create the same energy, enthusiasm and optimism that exists for whatever reason in Silicon Valley, wherever they are in the world. Whether that be Namibia, Bangalore or Lost Springs, Wyoming.