February 21-28, 2007

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Action Items

By Gary Singh

THIS week: When complaining becomes a cop-out. Of all the celebrated time-wasting endeavors one can undertake in Silicon Valley, nothing beats Google and MySpace. Sure, MySpace technically isn't based here, but Google is, and I decided to blow off steam and do a search, in quotes, for the phrase, "I hate San Jose," just to see what would come up. Not that I would ever try and be negative and cynical on purpose, but lo and behold, the first thing that did come up was a MySpace group called, appropriately, "I hate San Jose."

One of the other items that came up was a blog from someone named Summer, a forum that deserves special attention. She describes herself this way: "I am solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish, but certainly not short"—a phrase I could have penned, but that's another story. What thoroughly rocks, however, is her description of San Jose, as she's apparently lived all over the world. As part of a longer drop-dead-gorgeous invective of which there is no room to repeat here in full, she says this about San Jo:

"My hatred for San Jose is as irrational as it is passionate. However, being a generally rational person, I've tried for several months to articulate what exactly bothers me so much about living here. I used to think that railing against the suburbs was just knee-jerk hipster condescension or petulant teenage angst. Now that I find myself pouting like I have a frequent buyer card at Hot Topic, I'm trying to think seriously, without falling back on the now-clichéd critiques of suburbia that began with Babbitt or earlier and continue with The Stepford Wives, American Beauty, Edward Scissorhands, ad nauseum—the suburbs as sterile, repressed, populated by brittle housewives and tract houses simmering with dire family secrets. Then there are the familiar environmental complaints: rampant development, sprawl, pollution. And sociological critiques as thin veils for snobbery: no art, no culture, all tasteless McMansions and ignorant consumers."

Summer, if her profile is to be believed, is 27 and now lives in Shanghai, China. She continues about San Jose: "While I certainly deplore sprawl and pollution, and I'm sorry to say I'm not above the occasional unkind snicker at the middle American comforts of the local Applebees, my own dislike is much more personal and immediate. I feel trapped here. There are no buses, no taxis, no trains, nowhere to walk, nowhere to go. Everything looks the same in every direction, a disorientating nightmare. In San Francisco, Chicago, or Paris, I could walk outside and embark on any number of adventures by any number of means. San Jose is the opposite of possibility."

While all of this reads almost word for word like conversations I've had for 20 years now, people just need to get more creative in combating it. I mean, we all know that compared to San Francisco, San Jose is basically just Burlingame with a million people, but even a jaded lunatic like me can find some way to entertain himself. It's a total cop-out to say that there's "nowhere to go."

For example, if you're bored, how about this: organize 100 folks to wear pajamas and have a pillow fight in the streets, like they did in San Francisco last week on Valentine's Day. Or this: Order those pharmaceutical "For rectal use only" stickers you see on certain prescription bottles and go stick them on all the toys in Toys "R" Us, like some of my pals actually did. You don't have to necessarily break the law, just get creative.

It always amazes me that San Francisco—the most jaded place in the world—is a place that still bubbles with insurrectionary behavior. It's a place where a 400-pound naked man could walk down the street hitting himself on the head with a sledgehammer and not get a second look from anyone. But in suburban San Jose you don't see anything remotely as interesting as that. The suburbs are exactly the places where culture jamming is needed the most, so why does so little of it happen here?

So don't complain that you hate the place. Go out and get an insurrectionary plan of attack and fight the boredom.

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