Silicon Valley, it turns out, is a little like an insecure teenager. To the outside world the valley is all innovation, glitzy tech, big bucks and masters-of-the-universe CEOs.
Deep down, though, the valley is insecure, longing for connections and worried about what’s to come, says a two-year study, called the Santa Clara County Assessment, backed by big tech and a wide range of nonprofits.
The study, based on phone and online surveys and intimate discussions with small groups of valley residents, includes tons of data (and if there is anything the valley loves, it’s data) about demographics, health, transportation, economics and on and on.
The top line findings are not terribly surprising: People who live here like living here, people feel close to their friends and families, people like the weather.
I wasn’t surprised to find that it’s common for Silicon Valley residents to have Internet access at home. Just how common it is (92 percent of respondents had home Internet) was a surprise.
I wasn’t surprised to find that most people think their neighborhoods have a strong sense of community. But I was discouraged to read that that feeling isn’t as strong in poor neighborhoods as it is in wealthy neighborhoods. (64 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 said their neighborhoods had a strong sense of community compared to 73 percent of those with incomes of $100,000 or more.)
But maybe because I’m a guy who likes stories more than numbers, what really interested me were the snippets of discussion from the so-called Kitchen Table Conversations contained in the report.
Here Silicon Valley residents spoke their minds and in doing so they painted the picture of the insecure teen. It seems that Silicon Valley, a place all about encouraging connections through Facebook, Twitter and the like, has actually left a significant number feeling isolated.
Some quotes from the kitchen table, which were published in the study without names attached:
“There is none of that, ‘I got your back here.’ I’ve got to fend for myself. I think that is the reason why the community is not connected.”
“It’s hard to know my neighbors because of the language barrier. We gravitate to our own language and race because it is more comfortable.”
And while the high-tech lifestyle looks glamorous from the outside, on the inside some are feeling trapped and taken advantage of.
“A two-income family doesn’t even guarantee stability. You might be OK if you don’t get sick or injured; if you do, you are done in this area.”
“I don’t think you can be stable, not with high tech. Nothing is stable.”
“With the salary that I make at this point in my life, I should be able to look forward to purchasing a home, but there is absolutely no way that will ever happen if I stay here.”
The organizations that backed the study — including the United Way, The David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Education Foundation, Health Trust and more, hope non-profits, policy makers, activists and others will use the vast cache of data to figure out ways to make this a better place.
It is hard to draw one — or even two — conclusions from the ambitious study. The best thing is to poke around and see what you find.