Last year, when the federal government shut down for sixteen days, resulting in 800,000 furloughed workers and an estimated $2 billion in lost-productivity costs across the country, Chamath Palihapitiya, an early Facebook employee and venture capitalist, declared that it didn’t matter what happened in Washington because “where value is created is no longer in New York, it’s no longer in Washington, it’s no longer in L.A. It’s in San Francisco and the Bay Area.”
A week later, Balaji Srinivasan, then an executive at a biotech start-up, gave a triumphal speech in which he contrasted Silicon Valley with the rest of the country (which he dubbed the “Paper Belt”) and made the case, as technologists like Peter Thiel and Google CEO Larry Page had before, that the tech industry needed to “build an opt-in society, outside the U.S., run by technology” in order to fulfill its destiny free of government intervention. In December, venture capitalist Tim Draper proposed a new law that would split California into six smaller chunks, with Silicon Valley becoming its own state. All of this hubris and magical thinking cemented for many an image of Silicon Valley as a naïve bubble society that was prone to fits of, as Salon writer Andrew Leonard put it, “Russian-aristocracy-before-the-revolution arrogance.”
The tech industry’s isolationism has seemed increasingly off-key in part because, unlike in the past, Silicon Valley now needs the rest of the country on its side. The low-hanging fruit of private-sector innovation—meal-delivery apps, tablet accessories, computerized fitness bands—has been fairly well picked over. Today large tech companies are going after grander problems that will require approval both in Washington and from the public. Facebook wants to get the entire world online. Amazon wants to start using drone helicopters to deliver packages. Elon Musk wants to build a colony on Mars. And Google wants self-driving cars, large-scale robotics projects, and sweeping changes to sectors like health care and education.
This is why they hate you.