November 17, 2008

Back from America; some observations

I just returned from a quick three-day trip to Sunnyvale, California where I attended the IEET's Global Catastrophic Risks symposium and Convergence08. Both events were a great success and very well attended. I hope the organizers do it again next year.

A couple of quick observational notes about the United States:

The U.S. recession is worse and far more pervasive than I thought.

Listening to the various conversations this past weekend I realized how widespread and severe the current recession is. People were talking openly about unemployed family members, lost savings and devastated stock portfolios. There's a lot of dread going around.

It's not nearly this bad in Canada, so I've been somewhat sheltered from the reality.

And driving through Silicon Valley I saw signs of the recession first-hand. The light industrial areas were sprinkled with office buildings that had 'for lease' signs posted out front.

But that said....

Americans have Obama fever and they have it bad.

And I think this is good. I can't remember the last time I heard so much optimism from my American friends and colleagues. Everybody is projecting and hanging their hopes on the incoming administration; they're all abuzz with anticipation.

People, whether they're doing scientific research, advocating for more progressive public policy, or simply looking to see something done about the economy, are planning for change and rejigging their agendas accordingly. It was very exciting to see and hard to not get caught up in all the excitement. It's as if a straight-jacket has been taken off the U.S. public.

And lastly, I love the attitude in Silicon Valley. Never mind the influence of the current state of the economy or Obama, I know from past experience that the people in Silicon Valley simply think differently.

It's more than just a tech-sector or a place to work. It's where people genuinely feel that unique and advanced technologies can and should be brought into the world -- and that they are the ones who can make it happen. Silicon valley imbues a sense of wonder and possibility.

And it's the only place in the world where the word 'Singularity' is practically in the vernacular; you say it and nobody even blinks.


Dustin said...

A visit to Sunnyvale, California is hardly enough experience to state, "The U.S. recession is worse and far more pervasive than I thought.", unless you thought that the U.S. recession wouldn't be apparent anywhere you went.

In my area of the US most people know about the recession from the news, and talk about it in some abstract way. Heck, I just read that new-home construction is actually up 5% in the Midwest, whereas it's down 20% on the West coast.

I could rattle off statistic after statistic that shows that the US economy is not nearly as homogeneous as many news reports would have you believe.

George said...

Dustin, I mingled with over 300 people this past weekend who came to Sunnyvale from all parts of the United States. I think it was a fair snapshot.

Anonymous said...

about the singularity being in the vernacular: when I talk to people about the singularity, most of them do not know what I am talking about; even after all this time, they know next to nothing about artificial intelligence
and yet, both things are going to significantly impact their future, and the future of their children

Anonymous said...

If I come to Toronto for the weekend, can I come back and pontificate on your blog about the state of the nation of Canada? ROLFMAO.

George said...

Wow, do you really think I was "pontificating" in that post?

dharmicmel said...

there was neither anything pompous or dogmatic in george's remarks

Nato said...

As a former Econ major who works in Sunnyvale and lives in S.F. I have to say that George's anecdote isn't that unrepresentative. S.F. and Sunnyvale are some of the least-impacted nationally-focused centers of commerce/industry in California, if only because there's been such tremendous pent-up demand in both places that the sudden drop in pressure simple lowers them from white-hot to warm. They are barely affected by the mortgage crisis, and our HR dept. is finding it easier to find qualified candidates than it was before, we're still not hiring as fast as we'd like.

Thus, if George is hearing all about the recession in Sunnyvale, then it's only likely to be worse elsewhere. And how long would housing starts in the midwest remain up 5% if the big three go into liquidation?