Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Reading: The Viral Me

silicon-valleyThe world is changing rapidly.  New methods of social interaction appear and disappear faster than your iPhone can drop a call.  One minute you’re the Mayor of Your Local Starbucks on Foursquare; the next minute your friends are scoffing at the mere mention of Mayorships and location-based badges.  Where is all of this ephemeral innovation coming from?  Where else?  Silicon Valley.

In “The Viral Me”, which appeared in this month’s issue of GQ, Devin Friedman recounts his journey to the tech Mecca of the U.S., where he interviewed some of the men behind the bleeding edge changes made daily to our digital lives. 

Friedman’s trip centers around Y Combinator (or “YC”), a peculiar little petri dish for online startup development.  Pairs of geniuses apply to the program; those few selected spend three months honing their ideas; and then Silicon Valley investors clamber over one another in support of your idea.  It sounds like a crazy place.  As Friedman puts it, “This—Silicon Valley in general and YC more specifically—might be the last place in America where people are this optimistic.”

The trip isn’t all honky-dory, smiley-faced reports on the future.  Friedman admits he’s not totally on board with how these social networking sites claim to help us when in fact they are simultaneously harvesting us for marketing information:

“A more pessimistic way to look at it is that we're slave labor, getting lured by our desire to show off what we buy (Swipely) or our witty repartee (Twitter), by our need for affirmation (all of the above), or by our habit of looking at pictures of girls from high school all day instead of doing work (FB), and we end up not only driving traffic to these sites but filtering information so that FB and Twitter and Swipely can capitalize on it. They would say they're just trying to make it easier for us to find movies we like. That's probably true, too.”

Faster than you can compose a witty, 140-character reaction to this week’s Glee, whiz kids in Silicon Valley are programming newer, less-private ways to share your life online.  “The Viral Me” exposes a little bit of what they’re up to and why they’re so damn positive about it.