The NYC Tech Inferiority Complex

The NYC Tech Inferiority Complex

The New York Post recently reported that Amazon is eyeing a return to New York City. This came on the heels of the Amazon/NYC as second headquarters debacle when Amazon abruptly pulled out of the deal thanks to protests orchestrated by a certain Queens member of Congress.

But that’s not what this is about. As we’ve been hard at work on our StartupOneStop app, which will not be limited to NYC information, West Coast readers, et al, two things occur to us:

  1. New York was about to offer some $3B in tax abatements to lure Amazon to Queens (and bring jobs, too, of course, as well as a helipad so that Bezos could land without being bothered by anything so pedestrian as New York traffic) – and since bringing jobs to New York was part of the big lure, why weren’t those abatements instead funneled towards fostering the indigenous New York tech industry?
  2. With New York City tech flourishing – despite the lack of support from the City and State governments, as Oliver Libby pointed out in an excellent piece in, again, the New York Post (How New York can be the new Silicon Valley — without Amazon) why are government officials “waiting for a savior from the West Coast to drop in and create tens of thousands of new jobs?”

Ever wonder how Silicon Valley got its name? According to the Computer History Museum, the designation is unanimously attributed to Don Hoefler, a technology news reporter for the Electronic News.
“Don was working for several weeks on a story about how the semiconductor industry blossomed in the Santa Clara Valley during the Sixties. One day a couple of marketing guys.. invited him to lunch… During the lunch conversation, one guy said something about “Silicon Valley.” …Don’s eyes subtly light up…as he asked, “Silicon Valley? Where’d that come from?”

The marketing manager said, “Oh, that’s what the guys call it.” It was a moniker that industry sales people had created and which Hoefler popularized.

But note to self: the industry blossomed in the Santa Clara Valley. The name ‘Silicon Valley’ was a logical progression. New York adopted the name ‘Silicon Alley’ in the early days of Web 1.0 because it rhymed with valley, of course. Bad marketing, as far as we’re concerned. Just as the Northern California-based tech industry was born in the valley, the New York tech industry was born in the City. We need to start referring to it as Silicon City. Silicon Alley makes us sound like an also-ran. And did from the start.

How often do we change the names of bridges and tunnels and streets and stadiums, and even cities and countries, considering Stalingrad and Rhodesia ?

People adjust.

Speaking of monikers, there was a time when San Francisco was referred to as Baghdad by the Bay, courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. The etymology:  Caen drew his analogy based upon lifestyle, not the cities’ appearances or geography. Caen’s San Francisco was a wild, wide-open city in 1951, a town with colonies of a dozen ethnic regions that lived by their own cultures unabated, a dozen tongues spoken each morning on the 38-Geary bus line on the way downtown to work, not unlike a commute in Baghdad. Fugitives from other climes who lived less-than-savory lives were left alone, so long as they didn’t cause any problems to either city’s other residents. A large Bohemian presence thrived in both cities. And both cities had an unsung tolerance, ranging to an admiration, for their diversity and colorful characters, many of the colorful rising to high places in Baghdad, and respected, if not exalted, in San Francisco.”

With all due respect, San Francisco, of which Silicon Valley is more or less a suburb or a series of suburbs, may be a city by California standards, but hardly comparable to such world capitals as London or Paris or Tokyo.

Or New York.

Even with the unbridled success of Silicon Valley.

With the luring of Amazon to the city, it seems that state and local politicians do seem to have something of an inferiority complex when it comes to the indigenous tech industry, and we’ve always felt it had to do with the name: an Alley will never be as lush and fertile as a Valley.

The moniker may be the reason why they fail to see – and promote – the potential here and why they feel that a West Coast-based behemoth (we do know that Amazon is Seattle-based) is critical in order to validate the New York tech industry as a world-class contender, and never mind that Amazon, Facebook and Google all already have a large and expanding presence here. They seem not to realize that New York has nothing to prove and that it has always been singular among the world capitals and even other American cities.

San Francisco may be Baghdad by the Bay, but New York is distinct and comparable to nowhere else on earth. It’s not an alley between tech hubs: it’s a singularity; a world unto itself that no other place on the planet can  truly touch or imitate. It’s simply, as Spaulding Gray put so precisely and poetically – an island off the coast of America.

Onward and forward.

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