August 27, 2014
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I’m used to sitting in coffee shops and restaurants in Silicon Valley overhearing conversations about technology. Today I was eating lunch in New York and the guys next to me were talking about technology, and something was a little different about it, so I spent my lunch (which they talked the whole way through) thinking about it. I came up with this: the guys in New York were talking as pure end users. I don’t think there are a lot of those in Silicon Valley, or even in the greater SF Bay Area. What theater is to New York and movies are to L.A., technology is to the Bay. A conversation about OneNote in the Bay Area would’ve started with a discussion of the more esoteric features, followed either by a talk about the finances of the company or by some small startup that was going to eat their lunch because it does one feature better. Or possibly they would compare OneNote to some previous software or competitor, longing wistfully for the days when said software did everything so easily. The point is, in the Bay, technology is a culture.
In New York, not to overgeneralize based on one conversation (certainly there are a lot of technology offices in NYC), technology is a tool. They talked about OneNote versus Dropbox versus iCloud versus Google Drive (SugarSync was not mentioned) the way you might talk about different cars. One guy asked, “Why do you use OneNote instead of MS Word?” and the other had to explain that it wasn’t a way to create documents but to store stuff. They talked about how each of those things kind of lives with its own application–the one guy had trouble saving stuff from Gmail to OneNote, for instance. *
(*Also: the one guy said “Microsoft 365 is pretty good” and the other guy totally listened to him, which would be enough on its own to place the conversation outside the Bay Area.)
I don’t want this to come off as “New Yorkers are stupid about technology,” because that’s absolutely not true. The two guys knew what all the technology did. They were struggling to find ways to make it all work for them. The reason this is interesting is because I think a lot of the time, Bay Area people forget that not everyone knows what their software does, or can understand it from a single ad. They come at it from the perspective of their immersion in technology–what do you mean, you don’t know the difference between Google Chat and Google Hangout??–and often in trying to make their software easier, they omit to make it intelligible.
None of this is new. It’s been documented before by people much more savvy and well-traveled than me. But from a writing perspective, it was an interesting reminder to think about cultural perspectives when you’re creating cities and civilizations. Not everyone even in the same country has the same backgrounds.