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Silicon Valley is living in a bubble of technology that’s not accessible to the rest of the world

Many of the innovations that we take for granted are simply not available elsewhere.

Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At CES 2017 Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


Science-fiction author William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

Nowhere is that more true than in the tech world, where it’s easy to think that innovations, products and services available to us are ubiquitous, even when their distribution is, in fact, very limited.

Square and Google Home come to the U.K.

Both Square and Google announced on Tuesday that their products were coming to the U.K. In Square’s case, this is its first entry into that market, but its fourth international market outside the U.S., after Canada, Australia and Japan. In Google’s case, this is its international debut for the Google Home speaker and its Google Wi-Fi routers.

I have to confess that I was unaware that Square hadn’t launched in the U.K., and I was also unaware that Google hadn’t made its new hardware products available outside the U.S. until now. But I suspect that’s typical of those of us who follow the tech market in the U.S. — we’re so accustomed to being the first to see new technologies that we rarely spare a thought for those who don’t have access to them yet, even in a neighboring market like Canada (as with the Google Home and Echo).

Even within the U.S., though, there are often haves and have-nots when it comes to new technology, and Amazon’s footprint is a great example of this. Amazon just announced two new pickup grocery locations for its Amazon Fresh service, but they’re both in Seattle (and currently only open to employees). Its Amazon Go grocery store is also only in Seattle (and perhaps for a bit longer than planned, limited to employees). Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookstores? All but one of the stores it has opened or announced are in or near big coastal cities, the latest in Chicago. Its Fresh delivery service is also limited to just a few markets, as are its same-day delivery services.

But this goes well beyond just Amazon. One of Lyft’s competitive disadvantages relative to Uber is the smaller number of cities (and countries) where it operates, even in the U.S., something the company is trying to rectify with a rapid expansion this year. I’m in New York City this week, and I’m finding there are a raft of options for ride-sharing services (for someone who feels increasingly uncomfortable with patronizing Uber), but that’s not the case everywhere in the U.S. Even something as seemingly ubiquitous as the Apple Store is still missing from several U.S. states.

Silicon Valley’s other diversity problem

Diversity is frequently in the news when it comes to the tech industry, and was again this week with the release of Uber’s diversity report. When we talk about diversity, it’s typically about underrepresented gender or racial groups, but there’s also another form of diversity the U.S. tech industry is missing out on — exposure to those parts of the U.S. and the world where many of the services that Bay Area residents take for granted are simply not available.

A tech worker living in San Jose can likely commute to work using Uber or Lyft or a number of other tech-based transportation services, order lunch through Postmates, and get groceries delivered at night from Instacart, Amazon Fresh or Google Express. But many of those services aren’t available (or in some cases relevant) in much of the rest of the country.

Living in such an environment and among other people who are benefiting from the rise of technology alternatives to traditional services, it must be tempting to think of these innovations as unmitigated boons to mankind. Of course, it’s often in the rest of the country where the negative impacts of these changes are felt, as jobs get sucked out of rural and suburban areas, either to disappear completely or to be replaced in high-tech zones. Engineers who only ever see the tech-infused version of the world they live in can have little conception of the impact it causes elsewhere, or the way the other half — or more accurately, the other 99 percent — lives.

Going global is tough but important

That’s why going global with a product or service is so important, though it may in some cases be tough. If innovations are beneficial, they should be as widely spread as possible, as quickly as possible.

It’s obviously much tougher where extensive physical infrastructure such as retail stores, warehouses, or even fleets of cars and drivers are needed, but we often see digital products and services like Amazon Echo and Google Home restricted to just a few markets, even ones that share a common language.

That’s why I was so impressed by Netflix’s global launch a little over a year ago, and continue to be impressed by major digital services from Apple like iTunes which span the globe, or even Siri, which supports many different languages in more countries than any of the other major virtual assistants.

Doing that work is hard — it requires local language support, cultural understanding, partnerships with local players and more — but it deserves doing, because the benefits of many of these technologies are worth spreading as far and wide as possible.

It’s also important for companies to put their people into more diverse places, because only then can those employees more accurately understand and represent the needs of those they’re trying to serve and create products and services designed to help a much broader swath of the population. I’ve also been impressed recently by Steve Case’s mission to grow tech hubs outside of the big existing ones as a way to bring renewal and growth to more places across the U.S.

More people in the tech industry should be thinking about how to distribute the future more evenly, both within the U.S. and across the world. That applies to their own businesses as much as to the products and services they sell.


Jan Dawson is founder and chief analyst at Jackdaw, a technology research and consulting firm focused on the confluence of consumer devices, software, services and connectivity. During his 13 years as a technology analyst, Dawson has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Dawson worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as chief telecoms analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally. Reach him @jandawson.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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