Editors note: With the election approaching, we asked some folks we admire: What does this election mean to Silicon Valley? Between now and the election on Nov. 6, we’ll be running the responses we received. Today, entrepreneur and investor Scott Banister speaks up.
By Scott Banister
Recently it has been said by some that “software is eating the world.” But what is even more true is that geeks are eating the world. Those best able to harness technology for the benefit of society are making their mark on industry after industry.
Of course technology has been a source of increased prosperity and wealth for humanity for a long time, and geek only made the leap from being a term for circus performers to something like its current meaning in the 1950s. But I will focus here on post-Shockley Labs geeks here in Silicon Valley, whether or not strictly connected to semiconductors or software.
While I don’t have first-hand knowledge of the early times in the Valley, it seems to me that the original source of geek power was science. You might land a government contract or a big OEM deal, but that wasn’t because of extensive lobbying or big-dollar marketing. It was because you had engineered or discovered something that no one else had.
Science and engineering are still the root of our local economy. But in the years since, geeks here have gone on to establish a strong presence in a more traditional area of power: persuasion. The biggest media moguls of our time are geeks that live here among us. Our largest employers are some of the largest buyers and sellers of advertising in the world. A local consumer electronics company is the owner of the world’s most valuable brand.
Along the way, our local companies and citizens were not early adopters of a third path to making your mark on the economy: political might. As recently as 1984, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties helped send Ronald Reagan to the White House, who was not exactly the patron saint of economic regulation.
But as the best and brightest, was this actually a shirking of our responsibilities? Sometimes science and persuasion are not enough. Shouldn’t we leverage our proven abilities as intellectuals and visionaries, and California’s position as the largest economy in the country, to achieve the things that we know will benefit society as a whole?
It seems that the popular answer to this question may be yes. In recent years, California has become synonymous with achieving a more energy efficient future through mandatory fuel economy standards, vehicle subsidies, and subsidized manufacturers ranging from electric cars to solar panels. Our local technology companies have become the leading federal lobbyists for net neutrality regulation. Silicon Valley favorite Proposition 37 hopes to force manufacturers to change their food labels nationwide rather than creating a special class of California-labeled food, and failing that we’ll look to Congress to make our standards mandatory in other states.
Many geeks helped President Obama run the most tech-savvy campaign in history in 2008, our local counties voted for him by a large margin, and he’ll enjoy major support from our geeks and voters again this year. If he wins, you can be sure that our lobbyists – they live in DC, but they are “ours” nonetheless – will be celebrating their coming of age as full citizens of Silicon Valley.