The Impatient Patient: It’s up to us to break the Silicon Valley bubble

By Renee Wang

The sharing of perspectives is key in breaking the Silicon Valley bubble. Illustration by Sunaina Nayak.

“[Silicon Valley] — it’s a weird, surreal place to live right now,” Alexa Cortes Culwell said. Culwell is co-founder of Open Impact, a strategic advisory firm dedicated to bringing about social change.

We live in one of the wealthiest areas in the U.S. The median household income in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area is nearly twice that of the U.S. average: $110,040 versus $61,400. Yet it seems unbelievable that within this palpable wealth, home to 76,000 millionaires and billionaires, 30 percent of residents rely on public or private assistance.

Despite the proximity of wealth and struggle, there remains a profound prosperity paradox. The prosperity paradox states that although living in the same area, the wealthiest and poorest Silicon Valley residents know little about each other. On the wealthier end of the spectrum, some are even unaware of the large class of people who are struggling.

In fact, a report published by Culwell reveals that nonprofit organizations in the Silicon Valley receive few donations. This is crucial, as these nonprofits play a major role in closing the inequality gap.

This lack of action is not out of greed, but rather grounded in ignorance. A simple question must be addressed: where does one even begin in bridging such a gap?

    I recently went to Chicago to attend a journalism convention. One of the sessions I attended there was called “Breaking Barriers.” The speaker, Kate Klonowski, spearheaded a collaboration between two schools of vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds to produce a newspaper.

    “I felt bringing the students together would broaden each of their perspectives,” Klonowski said.

    The biggest issue in producing the newspaper was not an unwillingness to collaborate by the schools, but differences in perspective, Klonowski said. The newspaper had two students swap schools for a day. However, in the initial drafts of the article, the students wrote about their experience of the switch, though both students felt that their schools had been grossly misrepresented.

    While the misrepresentations were not intentional, it does raise a larger issue: how many of us can truly say we understand, or even know, the struggles of those different than us? This does not just extend to those of different socioeconomic background, but individuals with different political views, races or cultures.

    Much of our perspective is shaped by our environment, and when we go through the world equipped with a singular perspective, we will forever remain in a bubble.

It is easy to become comfortable living in a bubble, and it is even easier to ignore that you are living in one. Perspective is gained by a willingness to open yourself to the idea that your experience is not universal, nor are your beliefs.

    I cannot understate the importance of perspective. According to a study in Scientific American, diversity makes us smarter. A diverse group of people each with a multitude  perspectives is more effective in solving complex problems compared to a group with similar individuals.

    Furthermore, the sharing of perspectives may just solve, or at the very least, bridge part of the income gap that plagues us today.

    The prosperity gap in Silicon Valley made me reflect on my high school experience. Companies like Apple and NASA are a few footsteps away. Not to mention, we walk the same halls as Steve Jobs once did — how many students can say they go to the same high school as one of the greatest technological innovators of our time?

    But until the journalism trip to Chicago a few weeks ago, I am ashamed to say that it had never struck me what a different reality I live compared to many others. During the trip, I met a girl from Virginia, who had just started a newspaper in her school.

My mind immediately went to The Epitaph: like many other organizations at HHS, it was well-established and award-winning.

    But if I did not go to a school that provided so many opportunities — with a 93 percent college-going rate for graduates and countless clubs — where would I be? Silicon Valley students face many issues such as mental health and stress, but there is a bright side living in this mecca of innovation: we believe that we can be great.

    We believe that we will be able to go to the top colleges in the country. We have completed prestigious internships and won national awards. We know that among us, there will most definitely be another Steve Jobs.

    We are lucky to have this kind of motivation and opportunity that others schools may not have. And more than ever, it is important that we start recognizing the need to develop the practice of exposing ourselves to different perspectives now as opposed to later.

Some of us may one day be in a position to lend enormous help to others. Because we are the future, we owe it to ourselves not to repeat the past mistake of not getting more involved in our community, or not doing more to bridge the inequality gap.