It's a stark contrast: Pampered Silicon Valley citizens talk big about meritocracy and changing the world, while they insulate themselves from that world. Meanwhile, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates actively engages in preventing malaria, a scourge that kills individuals and keeps many countries struggling to enjoy the good life that Silicon Valley enables and celebrates.
Have you been to the headquarters of Twitter on a seedy stretch of San Francisco's Market Street? If you get there at lunchtime, you won't see many of the Twitterians going out for a sandwich. Instead, they'll be eating better fare in the company's spiffy cafeteria; if it's a nice day, they'll chow down while relaxing on a couch in the roof garden.
If Google is their employer, they won't jump on Muni, BART, or Caltrain with everyone else to head down to headquarters for their commute; instead, they'll ride one of the air-conditioned, Internet-equipped Google buses that trundle through San Francisco neighborhoods.
There's nothing wrong with any of that. Google's bus fleet takes hundreds of polluting automobiles off the freeways every day -- and who doesn't like a nice lunch? But those perks are emblematic of the tech world's isolation from the rest of the world. Like Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection, Silicon Valley is in love with itself and has woven a string of myths to justify that affair.
Silicon Valley fancies itself a meritocracy, but it has few women as top-tier leaders and few African-Americans in its engineering or executive ranks. It also engages in the kind of behavior more emblematic of robber barons than principled pioneers.
Silicon Valley boasts of its charitable giving, but only six -- 12 percent -- of the 50 most generous U.S. donors in 2012 came from the technology sector, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, while 75 members -- 15 percent -- of the Forbes 500 list of the wealthiest people in America made their fortunes in technology. The technorati who fancy themselves as changing the world should be more generous than bankers, lawyers, and those in other industries, don't you think?
So it's no surprise that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could believe that the world's most pressing problem is the lack of Internet connectivity. Assuming he's not just lusting after new customers for Facebook, he's simply clueless. Former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates had it exactly right when he told the Financial Times: "As a priority, it's a joke. Take this malaria vaccine, [this] weird thing that I'm thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that's great. I don't."