After The New York Times's Nick Bilton jotted down his observations of his first year living in Silicon Valley, we have two versions of the tech industry's relationship: the casually wealthy who don't flaunt their wealth and people who rent tigers and big giant piles of snow for their house parties. "The money our here is obscene," Bilton wrote, before listing some of the marvels he'd witnessed on his tour through the Valley: " The newly minted rich are obsessed with outperforming their rivals. One industry party I attended had a jungle theme. This included a real, 600-pound tiger in a cage and a monkey that would pose for Instagram photos. A prominent Googler’s Christmas party in Palo Alto had mounds of snow in the yard to round out the festive spirit. It was 70 degrees outside. Sean Parker, a founder of Airtime, threw a lavish, $1 million party that included models he hired to roam the room and a performance by Snoop Dogg."
The idea that people who are billionaires (or mere millionaires) tend to live lavish lifestyles seems pretty logical. Or at least likely. But since Bilton's post went up on Sunday, it's stirred up a chorus of protest from Silicon Valley boosters who insist that money is just different out there. Tech blogger cum venture capitalist Michael Arrington wrote the most strident defense with an anti-Bilton post that begins by agreeing with Bilton. "There is an obscene amount of money here. But it’s the only place in the world where most rich people don’t really flaunt it." The parties stocked with tigers and models is an exception, Arrington insists, since Silicon Valley denizens are "serious people, doing serious things." This a familiar reaction -- Silicon Valley tends to get defensive over its extreme wealth, not wanting the rest of the world to think its culture is like that. They may have money, but don't compare them to that lowest form of wealthy person: Wall Street bankers.
TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis says the wild parties Bilton mentions are outliers. "While there are some riveting things about The Valley, the tech parties as a whole are not one of them," she writes. "In fact it’s almost amazing how dull most 'official' startup parties are in Silicon Valley; Rooms full of pale, doughy guys in khakis and blue shirts drinking bad wine and talking about the challenges of mobile." (That actually sounds like a bunch of bankers in the Hamptons.) "The really interesting parties in The Bay Area," she continues, "aren’t lavish or douchey, they actually have good music, and just so happen to be thrown by people in tech."
So got it? Rich boring money guys. Bad. Cool, hip tech innovators. Good. Robert Scoble chimed in to add that Bilton gave too much attention to that tiger. "There is another side to the Valley," he wrote. "One where people are building truly innovative companies."
But, of course, the investors and creators don't like any press that tarnishes their image. We should be used to this position by now, as it's the exact same line of thinking that has Silicon Valley upset over the Bravo reality TV show. There seems to be a fear that if anyone thinks that people spending the money they've made in tech are acting like clichéd rich people, the money will disappear. Just think of how Facebook discourages its employees from ostentatious purchases. (Secret spending is okay, though.) Wall Street bankers making millions while the economy sputters get dragged in front of Congress. Tech CEOs who are making the world a better place get invited to the White House.
Still, why make a ton of money if you can't enjoy spending a fraction of it? New Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has notorious spending habits. For the one CEO Arrington knows who drove a Honda there are a slew of others learning about the private jet market. Whether tech entrepreneurs like it, Silicon Valley innovations have made some people a lot of money. And those people spend it on lavish Marie Antoinette themed parties (pictured above), and the like. Silicon Valley lifestyle is not "too boring" to care about, as they would like us to think. It's just that the Valley doesn't know how to handle its own contradictions. The same people who created a "look at me" culture, don't like it when people start paying attention and don't like what they see.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.