In recent years, Silicon Valley has become a symbol for the best aspects of the American economy: fiercely competitive, breathtakingly innovative, and open to anyone with the talent and the work ethic to make something people want. It has become a cliche to note that the country (and the world) would be a better place if it were more like Silicon Valley. But few of the people who make this observation have any deep insights about why Silicon Valley works so well. They speak in platitudes about the importance of innovation without having much to say about where innovation comes from or why it happens.
I’m convinced that Silicon Valley’s fundamental strength is the fact that it embodies what I’ll call a bottom-up perspective on the world. The last couple of decades have brought us the dominance of the open Internet, the increasing success of free software, and the emergence of the free culture movement as an important social and political force. More generally, Silicon Valley is a place with extremely low barriers to entry, a culture of liberal information sharing, and a respect for the power of individual entrepreneurs.
Conversely, I think many of the world’s problems can be traced to the actions of institutions that are too large, too powerful, and too out of touch with the people over whom they exercise authority. I’m an advocate for a bottom-up agenda that seeks to make these entrenched incumbents more accountable, more subject to competition, and ultimately less powerful. This blog will explore how this might be done, and why it ought to be.
My formal training is in computer science, and I’ve spent much of my career writing about technology policy. So many of the blog posts here focus on subjects like copyrights, patents, telecom regulation, and online privacy. But the bottom-up concepts that ground my thinking about these subjects have much broader application. The “network effects” that drive the Internet are also responsible for the dynamism of cities and the wealth creation of international trade. And disruptive technologies are transforming a wide variety of traditional industries, like newspapers, recorded music, and Hollywood. Understanding the economics of the Internet is increasingly important for understanding what’s happening in the “real world.”
Bottom-Up aims to be a little bit different than most blogs. The typical blog is tightly coupled to the news cycle. That makes for a lively read, but it tends to produce a kind of scatter-shot effect, with little connection between one post and the next. I’m going to try to achieve a bit more continuity and coherence with posts at Bottom-Up. Posts may run long, and if a topic strikes my fancy I may do several posts in a row about it. If you’re looking for comprehensive, realtime coverage of tech policy (or anything else) I suggest you look elsewhere. But I hope those who take the time to read my longer-than-average posts will find them worthwhile.
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I read your blog concerning distance education programs and your general observations regarding just “what” a college education should really be! It’s refreshing to see others thinking about college as a holistic enterprise as opposed to a quasi “trade school.” You might be interested in our ongoing research through the Center for Learning Outcomes Assessment based at Indiana State University; we’re finding data that fully supports your arguments. Our website offers a summary of our ongoing findings, but I’d be happy to share a copy of the full report at your request. I hope you’ll be interested in our work and will find it informative!
College is a trade school – or should be. The only reason it needs to be some kind of ‘holistic’ experience is because our society is dominated by massive government-backed hierarchies that control our vastly over-regulated market. College needs to be ‘holistic’ because nowadays social skills matter as much (or more) than merit itself. How well can you thrive in the existing hierarchy?
Instead of fostering innovation, hard technical skills, and creativity, we’re promoting fraternities, social status and extracurriculars. In other words: top-down societies. If college were actually “bottom-up”, student government would actually have power (like it did in the 60s), and your value would only be defined by what you create. Not how you dress. In other words: trade schools.