(Editor's note: The Lieberman Award is given annually to the worst example of a human being over a twelve month period. Click the tag at the end of the post to review past winners.)
For years now the internet has been blanketed with Ruin Porn and other voyeuristic stories about the decline of cities like Detroit. Anyone who follows the news even superficially or spends a good amount of time on the internet can probably draw Detroit's abandoned train station and Packard plants from memory by now, so frequently do they appear in the news and in films. Like any kind of human misery, comfortable people are fascinated by decay.
In 2013 we were introduced to a new phenomenon that offers a refreshing change of pace to Rust Belt tales of woe: the "What the hell happened to San Francisco and why is everything there awful now?" segment. In many ways it is the polar opposite of Detroit but the train wreck is just as compelling to journalists looking for an easy yarn. Detroit brought us the $100 two-story house; San Francisco countered with the $5000 one-bedroom apartment.
We've been reading paeans to Silicon Valley for nearly two decades now, originally confined to tech media outlets like Wired and Fast Company (the official scribes of record for the Breathless Bullshit industry) but by now it is quite mainstream and uncontroversial to proclaim that Google or Apple or venture capital or "tech" or innovation or "thought leaders" or some other thing nobody quite understands (but knows innately that "Silicon Valley types" do) is going to solve all of the world's problems. We've drowned in TED talks – like watching somebody masturbate on stage, only less pleasant and without the satisfaction of a definitive ending – by Valley guys who believe that because they have made a billion dollars by engineering better ways to harvest personal data online or make Mashable sidebar ads more clickable they are qualified to solve all of the world's problems. While hunger and economic inequality have yet to be tamed, oddly enough The Valley has been remarkably successful of solving all of the problems inherent to being a twentysomething Valley Guy with tons of disposable income.
While the rest of us can safely roll our eyes and ignore them – assuming we can put the frightening amount of political influence these mavens of Creative Destruction are wielding – but San Francisco has to live with them. Literally. We had the pleasure of watching the ugliness of elitism and classism unfolding during the BART strikes, when Valley Guys were loudly outraged that transit employees had the temerity to demand $60,000 salaries in an attempt to be able to continue living indoors in the city thanks to Chad and the other New Millionaires driving monthly rents into the thousands. Having turned entire neighborhoods into literal frathouses they're none too happy when the lower class people who serve them remain visible among the organic dog treat bakeries and various retailers of high-end craft cocktails.
While bashing TED talks is now quite in vogue – I like to think I was ahead of the curve by several years on that one – it was in 2013 that we began to see the Silicon Valley Douchebag for what and who he really is. So ubiquitous is the problem of rampant assholery in the industry that tech media outlets and blogs are now regularly running content about how San Franciscans are suffering plagues of "Startup Douchebags" pricing them out of, well, everything. Like any gold rush, the tech boom of the last 20 years has attracted the brilliant and innovative…and hordes of fad-following, trend-hopping. buzzword-spewing bullshitters. In true gee-whiz New Economy fashion, a self-help industry will probably appear to give Webinars and Corporate Retreats to explain to the Apple folks how not to be such raging dickwads.
Aside from complaining bitterly about the homeless and inventing myriad ways to sell us expensive gadgets and harvest our personal data, what has Silicon Valley actually accomplished thus far? For all the grand ideas and self-congratulatory, attention seeking behaviors, how have they "changed the world" as they so often and loudly claim to be doing? They've repackaged neoliberal economic wisdom for the umpteenth time. It's nothing but the latest coat of paint on the "privatize it, outsource it, focus on costs" mantra we've been hearing since the Seventies. Indeed, there is nothing revolutionary about "Find someone to do it for less, piecemeal and without benefits." It's another version of the glorious future in which the rich can hold onto all of their money with the added allure of replacing even the unwashed plebeians who serve them with apps and robots. For now we can develop a web-based platform to farm out to The Cloud the tasks of an Executive Assistant, but just imagine a dazzling techno-future of automation in which the elite don't need to pay anyone at all.
God help the normal people trying to live in the Bay Area, and congratulations to all the Silicon Valley Guys. Their actions are in keeping with the smug, self-satisfied, and unctuous tradition of Joe Lieberman himself. Truly they are assholes of year-defining proportions.