Umair Haque / Bubblegeneration
umair haque  


Design principles for 21st century companies, markets, and economies. Foreword by Gary Hamel. Coming January 4th. Pre-order at Amazon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

How the Valley's Blowing It


"...I'm a noise junkie.

...I've been studying noise and news now for quite a while.

...let's do a little definition of the difference between news and noise.

NEWS: tens of thousands dead in China quake.
NOISE: BrianGreene: some pirate is playing old radio nova tapes on 92FM dublin, with old jingles and old ads. adverts for rent a 20″ TV 48p a day (48 pence!)"

Bolding's mine.

You know this would be funny - if it wasn't so sad.

Why is the Valley so lame these days? Why aren't revolutionaries solving any real problems?

Because, apparently, they're navel-gazing so hard, they can't see gigantic meteor-sized economic problems crashing and exploding around them.

For my money, the real issue isn't (for the love of sweet Jesus) news, or noise. It's the hundreds of thousands of people who just died in China and Burma.

You know - the ones Scoble just...ummm...ignored with the zombified glibness of a frat-boy at a kegger.

Those tragedies point to a whole slew of problems that need to be solved: disaster relief, income inequality, political repression, hunger, thirst, censorship/acess to information...the list is endless.

To Scoble's credit, he's discussed exactly one of these topics lately. That's better than nothing - but it's not nearly enough.

Honestly - it's no wonder the Valley's trapped in a profound state of decay: it seems to have lost the ability to, well, think.

-- umair // 2:12 PM // 21 comments


when was this mythical golden age when "the valley" cared about solving the world's problems? They never have, and the never will-- it's not decay, it's DNA
// Anonymous Anonymous // 2:41 PM

hey anon,

the entire point of a venture indsutry is to solve the biggest economic problems around.

thx for the comment.
// Blogger umair // 2:46 PM

Well...would love to believe that the entire point of the venture industry is to solve the biggest economic we really think that is the case?

If so, someone should go edit the wikipedia definition of Venture Capital...

// Blogger Leigh // 3:44 PM

hey leigh,

you may not think that's the case - and i understand that it doesn't feel like venture is there to solve big problems, that it's there to invest in software/media/tech/etc.

but from a financial pov, if venture isn't solving the biggest problems, it has exactly zero rationale for economic existence.

that's why it's in so much trouble.

thx for the comment.
// Blogger umair // 3:51 PM

"but from a financial pov, if venture isn't solving the biggest problems, it has exactly zero rationale for economic existence."

so many things with zero rationale ... trading, betting, large swathes of the consumer goods business

non-profits, ngo's, they all benefit from vc efforts, or from the products made by for-profit companies

you expect people to be different than they are, which guarantees a lifetime of frustration....

the times are turning, no doubt, been predicted for awhile ... but it ain't the valley's fault... that is such a small part of this world... though one with some celebrity and money ... maybe you should make films?
// Blogger gregory // 5:30 PM

I couldn’t agree more. I had the same thoughts when I read this post as well as the self congratulatory posting by many twitter users including S about how wonderful it was that they had the story before cnn etc. Of course the only real action this spurred any of them to take was to keep on twitting about it…
Without going into too much economic theory it seems that in a healthy capitalistic system would allocate value/money to those who solve the biggest and most important problems. Clearly something is wrong here.
// Anonymous OneRock 777 // 5:35 PM


trading and betting do have a very clear economic purpose, though it's been subverted in the name of strategy.

the "valley" is just shorthand for the venture industry.


twitter point - exactly.

thx for the comments guys.
// Blogger umair // 5:43 PM

I guess the Silly Valley digerati would say the best solution to the china and burma disasters would be to form a social network and twitter about the lack of food, water etc.
// Anonymous Anonymous // 5:43 PM

by trading i refer to the endless musical chair shuffling of repackaged debt structures where everybody makes money until somebody wises up ... or the never a win-win of trading where the trick is to sell something to someone dumber or less informed than you are ... i see no economy here, and no purpose in the way you seem to be using the word as a marker for social value ... same with betting, ego against ego, for what purpose?

vc is basically the ancient practice of fronting somebody enough to make something happen that wouldn't otherwise happen ... old as mankind, (thor, loan me your club) and not necessarily a bad thing .... it is the guys who are using the advance in a selfish or trivial way (in comparison to the problems in the world) that could use a spanking
// Blogger gregory // 5:55 PM

Hey Umair,

Would you agree that a major reason the navel-gazing is so intense is because of a lack travel to other countries to really do the hard research discovering and understanding these problems?

(on the part of both VC's and entrepreneurs)

(Also, there is an epidemic in the U.S. of spoiled, bratty children and desperate housewives, which really clouds things...)

(Shoot, that may be as big a problem as the water crisis, etc)

I don't hear anyone else combining colloquialisms like "kegger" with your global/macro perspective.

How did you come to achieve this context?
// Blogger Ethan Bauley // 6:46 PM

You can clearly see its blowing it from this post @ Techcrunch
and they voted the guy on time 100
// Anonymous Anonymous // 8:54 PM

Umair is fighting the good fight, taking the capitalist investor at his own evaluation, that he creates value by doing good.

The fact is, the capitalist is just an exploiter making his profit any way he can, whether he does good or ill.

I believe Umair when he says there are opportunities to do good AND make money investing in solving big problems ... but that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to make money fucking the world up and causing misery too ... and people will take those.

While VC and good *can* be aligned, Umair's wrong to think it's an "inevitable" law of economics. You need people with integrity and virtue to see and do the right thing. Not just those following their self interest.
// Blogger phil jones // 2:09 PM

So far this year I've been to Europe twice, Israel once, New York twice, Seattle once, Los Angeles once, so can't make the claim that I don't travel.

My blog is a TECHNOLOGY blog. Not a news blog, not a "let's do something about disasters" blog. I'm going to continue staying focused on technology, even if it continues to get me called names. At least I Twittered the Red Cross' page and donated some money. Not sure that the author of this blog did anything except for complain.
// Blogger Robert Scoble // 6:55 AM


Seattle, New York, and LA as examples of context-expanding world travel?


Even Europe? Israel's something for sure, but it's still a small group that is relatively "wired".

If I wanted to create a technology application that would produce no less than $10B in value, the LAST places I would go to identify the opportunity are the ones you named.

Nah mean?
// Blogger Ethan Bauley // 8:27 PM

@rscoble: is your blog technology news or technology noise? ;)

Ok if it helps any, I tried to answer your question("why does google news have no noise"?)- Noisy News
// Blogger preetam // 10:36 PM

oh come ON, are you KIDDING me?

"the valley's blowing it"... as compared to who/m?

first off, the Valley <> Scoble. (and actually Scoble's a really nice guy, who's done plenty of blogs & videos on human subjects, like this one on Unitus:

beyond just Robert, there are plenty of us in the Valley that give a shit about social issues & causes. i help run the Silicon Valley Microfinance Network (, and i'm an advisor to Kiva & a board member for Unitus. for another example, see Jeremiah's post this week promoting help for the China earthquake:

(one of the most inspirational posts ever... nice job J :)

i can't even BEGIN to rattle off the number of people i know in the SF bay area who are active on social issues, and/or the number of entrepreneurs & VCs i know who are involved in similar causes.

finally, in terms of REALLY doing shit about the world that makes a difference, the Valley is one of the biggest centers & resources for clean / green tech as well as other technology that helps make peoples lives better.

Silicon Valley venture capitalists may occasionally be stupid and/or sheep, and they're certainly about making money. but they're also about making dreams & change happen.

for you to label the valley as "blowing it" with a broad brush due to your [mis]perceived impressions of either Robert Scoble or VCs is absolutely naive & childish, if not blatantly disrespectful of the thousands of people here who are making their life's work about changing the world for the better.

stick a sock in it, and grow up.
// Anonymous dave mcclure // 1:07 PM

Umair: As you and I have discussed before re:Twispers, this is another example of trying to make black (navel-gazing) and white (ending poverty) classifications in something that is really a spectrum.

Billions of venture capital investments are flowing every quarter to solve huge, life-and-death problems. Off the cuff, I believe $9 billion was invested last year in Life Science companies working to save people's lives, improve the quality of life, and increase the efficency of delivering such value across the globe.

Add to that, explosive growth in alternative energy investments to help power the world and new food/agbio breakthroughs that will ultimately feed everyone in the world, and the picture is no longer so black and white.

I'm no Valley/Scoble/Arrington fanboy, but as you extend your claims to the venture industry as a whole I see good that far outweighs the navel-gazers. The people and examples you reference are just one segment of a diverse industry -- a particularly loud/visible segment, but just one of many. When you include the full spectrum, I think you'd agree that big problems are being tackled and solved as a result of venture capital.

If you do agree there's a spectrum, then maybe the question becomes how much weight entrepreneurs should give to those specific talking heads...they are, at worst, ego-heavy entertainers and at best, subject-matter experts in a narrow category of entrepreneurial opportunity.
// Blogger VC Dan // 2:21 PM

to dave mcclure above, amused that i cannot follow the links you posted because i cannot go into the walled garden ... see how facebook is evil, in terms of blocking the flow of human communication for the sake of its own greed?
// Blogger gregory // 3:26 PM

This sort of reminds me of that Churchill quote: "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." Is there another region of the world whose entrepreneurs have tackled more and bigger problems than Silicon Valley?

Also, what's with the cheap shot on Scoble? It comes off as pretty nasty and unfair, whether or not that is how it was intended.
// Anonymous lawrence // 5:01 PM

@gregory: the links i posted above weren't to Facebook pages (my bad), they were supposed to be to posts on Robert's & Jeremiah's blogs.

However, for some reason Firefox (or some add-in component) keep breaking the cut & paste function in my browser... so actually the "EVIL" here is Firefox, that most evil, evil of open source standards.

the links, once again:
* Robert Scoble on Unitus microfinance

* Jeremiah on China earthquake photos & donations

finally, if i *HAD* meant to post links to notes or stories on Facebook, most of them are visible not logged in, like the Silicon Valley Microfinance Network page i created here:

love you too, snookums :)
// Blogger Dave // 8:25 PM

Again, focusing just on the news vs. noise aspect of this discussion, here's an interesting one: NY Times API coming.

Noise is produced at the edge.
News is produced at the core.

Making the core accessible to the edge(via an API, for example..)=> letting the edge make shit loads of noise about the core.

Which means less noise, and more quality signals. So you hear the news from your noise feeders, before you get to your news readers.

Good morning, America.
// Blogger preetam // 7:35 PM
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