Paul & I have just returned from hearing astronomer Seth Shostak, astrobiologist Cynthia Phillips, and social scientist Doug Vakoch speak at NASA Ames Research Center. Their topic was what would we do if we found life out there? It was a very funny, populist-yet-brainy event which I enjoyed very much.
However, I was really struck by the experience of the Silicon Valley egregor. I've been living elsewhere for almost three years now, after spending 13 almost-uninterrupted years living in Mountain View, and each time I come back to the South Bay to visit, it's a bit of a culture shock. Sitting in that room at Ames tonight with about 200 denizens of the Valley I'm more than ever convinced that I just don't belong there, and I never did. The cold, hard, unrelenting, single-minded materialism is palpable. You can feel the sense that if a thing is not profitable, it's worthless. There isn't really any foothold for the arts in the Silicon Valley values system, and it makes perfect sense to me now that I was never able to build much of a following for my music there. I'm much better off in the City and the East Bay where intangibles are actually valued.
But I still got a kick out of the SETI presentation. I learned a lot and Seth Shostak is such a hoot!
Afterwards we went to Garden Fresh, a vegan restaurant in Mountain View that we have been going to since it opened in 1995 -- and found that the decor had been completely changed, that new menus had been printed, and that there was no one on staff that we recognized. It was kind of a shock. I looked around for the shrine that's always been there, but it was gone.
All the same things were on these newly-printed menus, but when the dishes arrived, not all of it tasted the same. The spinach won ton soup was the same. But the scallion pancakes didn't have enough sauce on them, and the steamed dumplings had filling that tasted subtly different. The dumplings also weren't piping hot like they have been all these years. And the hot and sour soup that Paul had, according to him, also tasted different. We left feeling kind of strange like we'd found out an old friend had moved away without telling us.
So anyway I sort of feel better knowing that it wasn't just me, or my work; it was Silicon Valley that didn't have a place for what I was trying to accomplish. I wish I had known that at the time, and reached out to the community in the City and the East Bay right from the start instead of wasting my time banging my head against that brick wall.