Orange County Register
The consumer technology boom, largely responsible for a resurgence in California’s economy after the tech wreck of 2001, seems to be coming to an end. The signs are widespread: slowing employment, layoffs from bell-weather social media companies, the almost embarrassing difficulty of finding buyers for Twitter, the absorption of Yahoo by Verizon and the acquisition by Microsoft of LinkedIn.
This is not to minimize the great things which have been accomplished over 15 years of massive investment in these technologies. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004, and is now worth some $55 billion, up $15 billion from last year. In 2015, more than 1 billion people globally used Facebook applications every single day. The “app economy” created by Steve Jobs and Apple is equally impressive. What would we have done with our free time if it were not for Farmville, Angry Birds and Pokemon Go?
The tech boom has changed the face of wealth in America. Tech oligarchs, mostly clustered in the Bay Area, which dominates some 40 percent of employment in search and web publishing, now account for one quarter of the wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans. This tilting of wealth is not going away, and may shape the business world for a generation.
Concentration and contraction
Overall though, the economic impact of these technologies has been limited. Google’s Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. together employ fewer than 75,000 people, one-third fewer than Microsoft, worth only a fraction its value. Snapchat, the star of Silicon Beach, employs several hundred people, hardly enough to reverse a long-term decline in Southern California tech employment.
More troubling still are changes in the Bay Area tech culture. In its 1980s heyday, Silicon Valley was a Wild West of start-ups, new companies and ideas, and lots of jobs. Today, it resembles increasingly the cozy and fundamentally uncompetitive world of Detroit’s Big Three — Ford, Chrysler and General Motors. The Valley is increasingly dominated by a handful of companies — Google, Facebook and Apple — while conditions for startups, even well-funded ones, have deteriorated markedly.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com. He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.
Marshall Toplansky is Senior Advisor to Chapman University in the area of Data & Analytics, as well as adjunct faculty member at the Argyros School of Business and Economics. Formerly Managing Director of KPMG’s national center of excellence in Data & Analytics, Marshall co-founded big data company Wise Window, a pioneer in analyzing social media, blogs and news stories to track and predict business and political trends. Marshall is Chairman of the Cicero Institute, a strategy and research institution in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is past Managing Director of the Harvard Business School Association of Orange County, and was elected to the Computing Industry Hall of Fame for his role in creating the industry’s largest technical service certification program, A+, which has certified more than 3 million computer technicians worldwide.