Sunday, October 25, 2009

#27 The Language of Silicon Valley

Lily Tomlin said language exists to satisfy man’s deep need complain, and perhaps this blog is both the evidence and the aspiration. Of course the joke is funny only because it’s so far from being true. Language and this blog really exist, just like law, religion, economics, and ultimate fighting championships, to sort out who gets to hook up and hug it out with whom, a hypothetical to which the answer is always: Jeremy Piven.

This is precisely why public speaking is universally man’s greatest fear. Fail at language in public, with everyone around to see, and it's sexual suicide, not just with respect to the girl who rejected your shamefully awkward Starbucks come-on but every girl who witnessed it and the hundreds probably thousands of girls who are instantly texted and twittered. You're f*cked. You just lost all your mojo and got on the schneid, at least for a while, at least until, say, you taunt someone smaller than you in public.

For women, of course, language skills are a little less paramount as pressures of sexual selection, since, if they’re clever about it, they can rely on diversionary tactics - rules of decorum, bitchiness, mini-skirts, etc. But if you’re a guy the issue sooner or later will get pressed directly. A teacher will call on you, the star football season will end, the waitress will finish pouring the other coffee. Wear all the sleeveless Ts you want, but eventually you’re going to need to say something.

Single guys in weaker moments deny this. When the realities of
being short or fat seem particularly salient, like the Sunday morning after twelve Heinekens, all male tragedies get sourced to aesthetic and genetic shortcomings. They regress to the preliterate period of middle school and early high school where misshapen body parts and dim dating prospects defined most everyone, and the former facts were the strongly correlated cause of the latter. When you're 15 construing the world through your insecurities makes sense, because your peers really and sincerely do hate you, on the level of your soul, due to your weak chin or spindly legs or whatever, but by the time you're an adult, after girls start meeting people who know about Woody Allen films, attributing romantic failure to physical imperfection is less logical. It's kind of like thinking the toast got burned because the milk’s expired.

The inexorable fact is some guys have language gifts and some have biceps and out of cosmic fairness or as some sick metaphysical joke those groups seldom overlap. This is why guys team-up, both in hair-brained Roxanne-style schemes and on really advanced levels, as demonstrated by the Hollywood complex, where nebbish Harvard grads feed lines to thickheaded but handsome louts. To the extent such stratagems work it’s rarely with equal benefit. Some virigin in Culver City spends four months writing the first draft of Fool’s Gold and as a result, Matthew McCounghney blasts seven sorority girls on spring break in Cabo.

But in San Francisco something even more complex has happened. Guys have forsaken the language common to society for a language common to guys who love building computers. This language is like English in a way, except for the part about humans being the communicating interface and sensing the emotions of others.

Other guys who also specialized in this language have been recruited to relocate to the Bay Area and those guys have recruited others and so by now every poindexter and egghead loner who survives twelve to sixteen years of public school beat-downs gets a job in Santa Clara and a loft in SOMA. They wander about the Bay Area in a loose but huge confederation of pidgin-tongued social misfits.

Now here's the problem: society hasn't figured out what to do with these guys. Geeks are geeks and women hate them but the economy loves them. Author Bryna Siegel says "In another historical time, these men would have become [presumably virginal] monks...suddenly they're making $150,000 a year with stock options." That's the oxymoron. Being an expert at a coding language is lucrative but it's also like being male gymnast, perhaps the only sport in the world that’s impressive but doesn’t impress women. Women construe it as minor form of autism.

This problem spills-over into another: the economic value of the geeks is misleading to regular SF guys, who are long accustomed to thinking that the secret to professional and, by proxy, sexual success, as a politician, salesman, lawyer, reporter, rapper, or Michael J. Fox as a Kansas boy in Manhattan, is out-talking the people around you. With all the shifty-eyed geeks tooling around in Porsches the paradigm has shifted, sufficiently so that regular SF guys increasingly doubt the pay-off of charm and wit, which is grade A self-sabotage. It's like pursuing gridiron glory by emulating Plaxico Burress' strip club moves.

Language, according to academic Steven Pinker, is supposed to be common to all societies, and any given culture is approximately as skilled at it as any other. Without language, the thinking goes, no girls get talked into or out of anything, and without that, you have no naughtiness, no new generation and no surviving culture, just some harrowing Ray Bradbury single-gender dystopia, popularly known, of course, as the city of San Francisco, where the newest model iPhone is always ringing, but no girls are around to hear.

1 comment:

  1. Dude, pls start posting again in this blog. It cheers me up. But I've read all your posts like 10 times, so the effect is diminishing.