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California’s Yuppie Nerd Culture

The effects of gentrification on Bay Area real estate and cost of living have been well documented. But what about the impact of big tech bucks on the overall culture? Can San Francisco afford to stay weird anymore?

Last week, Kevin Roose wrote convincingly about the shifting culture in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley for New York magazine. Is Silicon Valley tech part of a bubble, or a gold rush, and how long will it last, he asks? Just when did San Francisco become as wealth- and status-obsessed as New York? And what will become of the Google-bus-riding nudist protesters? Roose wrote:

Whatever the Silicon Valley gold rush has done or will do, it’s already given us an entirely new species of yuppie mogul: the one who stockpiles bitcoin and speaks in hacker pidgin, the one who wears Uniqlo on a Gulfstream and obsesses over single-origin coffees. The kind, in other words, who plays the underdog even while sitting on top of the world.

In the latest issue of The Baffler, we excerpt an interview with computer scientist and author Jaron Lanier, who has, himself, been a part of the Silicon Valley culture for long enough that he has the authority to say how it’s changed. In the piece, entitled “Nerds on the Knife Edge,” Lanier says he’s worried about the homogeneity of the startup culture:

Silicon Valley is not an entirely new phenomenon. What’s new is the rise of a sterile nerdiness as a dominant personality. It’s almost an eschatology: the world is a giant program that we’re optimizing, and we’ll make ourselves obsolete as part of that—the grand project of the singularity. . . .

[. . .]

What I’m seeing right now is people choosing to be the same rather than different. In terms of nationalities and ethnicities, Silicon Valley is more diverse than it was thirty years ago, but cognitively it’s much more homogenous. Everybody has the same nerd personality. It wasn’t like that back in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s become a dominant style of thinking on campuses too—there will be large classes where every kid is kind of the same.

Read the rest of Lanier’s piece, here.