Shocked! The Valley is abuzz with the shock and – gasp! – poor taste at the opening presentations at TechCrunch Disrupt over the weekend in which two hackathon teams proudly showed off apps that the world absolutely doesn’t need. One helps men stare at women’s breasts. The other apparently is a trainer app for male masturbation. I may be stepping beyond my expertise here, but I’m pretty sure that the target market is sufficiently able to accomplish both acts without the aid of a mobile phone.
The real shocker, though, is the reaction to this silly stunt, the righteous indignation, and the mea culpas that were surely demanded by whatever adult supervision TechCrunch enjoys these days.
“Today’s issues,” wrote the co-editors of TechCrunch, “resulted from a failure to properly screen our hackathons,” presumably before giving these emotionally-stunted programmers a stage for their crap pile of code. Seriously? That’s the least of the problem.
Others decried the show as further evidence of Silicon Valley’s hostility toward women, and surely that was on display. Yet is was this comment in my Facebook stream this morning that struck at the heart of the issue: “Stupid idea. Silicon Valley creates solutions to solve problems.”
Sadly, on average, it no longer does.
Sadly, Silicon Valley – the abstract concept of seat of innovation and startup-dom – has become so much the sycophant of the investment, the flip, the pivot, the hacker, and the geek that the idea, the problem, and the meaningful solution have been all but lost.
You knew this day was coming. When fresh-faced entrepreneurs proudly showed off the 100th shop-with-friends app to get pushed to an app store, we knew it was coming. When yet-another startup mentor fawned over the Airbnb for the extra room in your luggage, we knew it was coming. When the tech blogs promoted to cult hero a young drop out who coded while secretly trespassing at a Fortune 100 company, we knew it was coming. When the act of calling oneself an entrepreneur surpassed the act of actually building a valuable company, we knew it was coming.
As Silicon Valley and the act-alike regions around the world began turning entrepreneurs into rock stars, the world of tech startups devolved from the Golden Era of Problem Solving to this current period of Opportunistic Coding.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad for these lucky bucks who can turn a 3-month stint sleeping in their cars and sitting on open wifi connections into the heroes journey that ends with an aquihire by a leading tech company. I just don’t mistake that good luck for creating “solutions to solve problems.” I don’t confuse the rock stars with the people who go to work every day trying to build the next great and enduring company.
This latter group is too busy to hack together a titty-spying app or to take the stage of a conference that can’t be bothered to screen its speakers. They are doing the hard work of solving problems for customers – you know, the folks with cash to pay for stuff that matters to them.
But this “issue,” as TechCrunch so delicately called it, may have a bright side. Just maybe it means we’ve hit rock bottom of Silicon Valley’s long slide from its addiction to superficial silliness masquerading as entrepreneurship. We can only hope.