Time for tech to find a new home

Apparently creative naming is not a requirement to be a technology hub.

The German region of Saxony is now “Silicon Saxony.” In England, a small area around Cambridge has delightfully been named “Silicon Fen.” Norway’s startup-heavy Oslo suburbs have been designated “Silicon Fjord” — and that is only the tip of the iceberg. It seems that no city is without a copied moniker and an aspiration to replace the original Silicon Valley, least of all New York with “Silicon Alley.” It is time for the world to recognize that Silicon Valley is a mirage — tech can never be contained to one area and allowing it to go global will allow it to help far more people and avoid the combative culture that sometimes accompanies valley tech culture.

In June, Cornell University broke ground on Cornell Tech — New York City gave it millions of dollars and half of an island to build the campus, which is intended to foster tech innovation and startups in the area. This university is intended to directly rival Stanford and the tech culture that has grown up around it.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley has become insular. Instead of seeing the global blossoming of tech as an opportunity, companies see it as a threat. And that is the problem with the Bay Area’s startup culture — entrepreneurs jealously wield transformative economic and political power and expect everyone else to get out of the way. Maybe a little outside competition will help put things in perspective.

Take Uber, whose innovative idea is to allow strangers to share their cars for a fee. Clearly, the idea has worked — this is why taxi drivers have come after the company for dampening their business. But Uber is fundamentally a San Francisco company with a San Francisco outlook. Sometimes, problems outside the charmed circle of Silicon Valley are brushed off or ignored instead of being addressed.

In places as varied as Los Angeles, Boston and India, Uber drivers have faced accusations of harassment, sexual assault or even rape — work by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association found at least 25 incidents of sexual assault alone. Another company might have made administrative changes to prevent these incidents from occurring, but Uber brushes them off as the “Cost of Innovation,” refusing to implement even basic background checks for its drivers.

Then, there are companies like Prim, the short-lived startup that accumulated millions in funding to deliver laundry door-to-door. There might be a market for that, but only if you’re incredibly wealthy like a rich tech entrepreneur in the valley. Startups like these are harmless, but they show that valley tech culture is broken. These ideas seem viable because the people selling them all live in similar places and with similar lifestyles and proves that as long as tech stays in the valley, it can never be global.

This is why allowing other tech centers to grow is so important. If Silicon Valley’s stranglehold on tech investment dollars is broken, it will only benefit the valley’s culture, forcing companies to be more responsible for their actions, and more accountable to the needs of other areas. Maybe it is time for Silicon Fen, Fjord, Saxony or Alley. This sentiment was the one former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed in supporting New York’s bid to become america’s new technological hub.

“New York became the greatest city in the world because we dared to dream bigger than anyone else, and this project — and the challenge it represents to Silicon Valley — [is] part of that tradition,” Bloomberg said in a press release from Cornell Tech.

The power of shifting tech out of the valley is that it can respond to the needs of more diverse populations. New York is not much different in culture from the valley, but it can break the ice. Then, who knows? The potential for technology to change peoples’ lives in less developed regions of the world is limitless.

Even in an area as affluent as the Bay Area, some residents are homeless, others lack access to food and many face daily violence from the police and in their communities. Tech does not respond to those problems because it does not relate to them, which again proves why we need to diversify.

There may be much to lament, but there is also much to hope for. If this transformation is successful, the possibilities are extensive. Some of the world’s most serious problems — lack of access to power and clean water, the spread of disease, homelessness — are potentially solvable with only a little focus from the tech industry. But if we never turn our attention towards resolving those issues, we will never know what innovation can do.

Building a new university campus in the heart of New York may seem like a small step toward technological utopia, but it signals that innovation is no longer a province of one narrow area. We may miss Silicon Valley, but I think Silicon World will give us plenty to look forward to.