Notes from Disneyland

Tim at the HP garage, 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto. Credit: John Lee. I was finally talked into visiting Silicon Valley, the region of California at the heart of many of the technological innovations of the last 50 years. This is what I came back with.

“It’s the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.” – Quentin Tarantino

Everything is bigger, of course. The exit ramp from the aircraft, the portions of food, the hotel rooms, the sprawl of the city. That might go without saying, but it hits you like the cars should when you forget to look the right way before crossing the street. Actually, drivers are remarkably careful.

Technology is deeply embedded in the local economy. From the local food delivery service’s pickup trunk emblazoned with the domain name “waiter.com“, to the head offices of businesses most will ever only experience via a website. The results are obvious too. Ramshackle houses occupy land worth millions of dollars, while local commercial centres seem to consist primarily of restaurants and bars. An alien might struggle to understand what everyone did to earn a Dime.

So why liken it to Disneyland? It isn’t just the inherent unreality of the place. Or the fact that it makes me feel about 25 years younger. (That’s almost a negative age.)

For an explanation, take a trip up Judah Street on the San Francisco tram. At each stop the doors open and the mass of humanity that didn’t make it hobble on board. Inequality isn’t an American phenomena, but it is far more extreme than I expected. Yet the society seems to function strangely oblivious to how the “other half” live.

There was just one moment when I felt a real pulse. Enough to convince me that Disney magic wasn’t complete. Paul Saffo commented that the biotech revolution would ultimately lead to a divergence of the species, as the wealthy became able to extend their lives. That was enough to silence the room.