Just because the general population cares about the every move of one Silicon Valley tech executive does not mean the geeks to the north are anything like Hollywood types. But, due to Mark Zuckerberg's recent celebrity, which has landed him well beyond the naval-gazing tech blogs into the regular people tabloids, The New York Times's Nick Bilton makes that assertion, suggesting that Silicon Valley now has the same celebrity and cache as its southern neighbor. "Is Silicon Valley Becoming the New Hollywood?" Bilton asks in his column. Even with Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan's wedding photos and honey moon travels getting the type of nitpick-y attention generally reserved for movie stars, we have your answer, Bilton: No.
Bilton gets his evidence from two places, tabloids and Gawker. (Those two things are different in this case.) For Exhibit A, Bilton notes that Zuckerberg and Chan graced the covers of the gossip magazines, something generally reserved for Hollywood's stars, after their wedding. It is true that Zuckerberg is getting a lot of attention for his personal life these days. Even if we can say it is the level of crazy fame that an A-list Hollywood star gets -- we don't think it is -- this is neither unprecedented for Zuckerberg nor for Silicon Valley super-duper stars. Even before his company went public, Zuckerberg's private life intrigued us normals. At the very least, we can say the non-tech freaks started knowing and caring about Zuckerberg via Aaron Sorkin's 2010 portrayal of the awkward geek turned rich guy in The Social Network. That followed The New Yorker's 2010 profile of the Facebook creator, where we learned about him on a personal level. Sure, The New Yorker has a different audience than People magazine, but the point is that Zuckerberg was getting attention outside of niche tech publications. Since then, we've gotten to know the Facebook billionaire outside of his business dealings. Last winter, for example, we here at The Atlantic Wire, along with other non-tech focused publications, covered his lavish vacation. And, it's not like his relationship to Chan was news to anyone.
Plus, as Bilton even notes in his column, the Zuckerberg generation of tech entrepreneurs aren't the first to get the celeb treatment. "Granted, people like Bill Gates of Microsoft and Larry Ellison of Oracle have been profiled for years. The multiple private jets, indoor trampoline rooms and more than one mansion compound that cost tens of millions or dollars, each," he writes. He justifies that contradiction claiming that public attention wasn't as concerned with the personal stuff, which he claims has happened as a result of the more personal products this social tech bubble has created. "But the attention of the public has been directed more in awe of their gargantuan bank accounts and bravado, than the interest in them, or the companies they run," he continues. "This new generation of tech celebrities is doted on because their products are more intimate." We beg to differ. This Time magazine cover story asked (and answered) similarly personal questions for the dot com CEOs of the '90s. And have we already forgotten the celebrity of Steve Jobs? His death illiciated the same emotional response as Michael Jackson, with the weeks-long mourning, crying and memorials.
Bilton, however, has another piece of evidence from Gawker's tech blogger, Ryan Tate. Tate told Bilton more people read his posts than they used to. "This post about DropBox’s CEO got close to 300,000 page views and was linked to from everywhere, including the British newspaper, The Daily Mail," said Tate. One post, which Tate does not put in the context of Gawker's overall growth or the general fickleness of the Internet, does not count as much evidence. But he does make the following, valid point. "It hit me that the story of tech is now well outside Silicon Valley," he said. "When there is so much bad news and economic hardship in the world, people want to read about celebrity, and that is now the Valley people who have swagger and bling and often young and glamorous." Silicon Valley is rich and that is why its people are now starting to get famous. That's how it works in America. There are plenty of "famous" people outside of Hollywood that get attention because of their lavish lifestyles. Like, say, the Real Housewives. Silicon Valley has a bunch of newly minted million (and billionaires), so we're going to start to notice what they do with all this money.
But, that still doesn't make it anything like Hollwood. If anything, it's a type of bizarro Hollywood. Kind of like they call Washington, D.C ugly Hollywood, for the social climbing that happens in this less glamorous city, Silicon Valley is a sort of secret Hollywood -- possibly because the two California hubs hate each other? The spending isn't quite as conspicuous as we see further South. Just the other week we read about the "Reticent Rich" of Palo Alto, who buy things in secret. And the celebrities aren't really as glamorous. Zuckerberg had a "relatively normal" wedding, to use the apt words of The Atlantic Wire's Jen Doll. And we bet few little girls will get their fashion tips from Silicon Valley's bland execs. The only thing the two places have in common is money. And, if this bubble continues its droop, that might be short lived for the techies anyhow.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.