The tech boom has transformed many regions, including the San Francisco Bay Area, with a flood of money leading to high rents, overcrowding and increased gentrification, all of which seem unsustainable. Despite this, it remains a powerful force, one that many predict could collapse at any time. But could something as simple as ping-pong point to the forthcoming implosion of the tech bubble?
That's right. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, declining sales of ping-pong tables – which are ubiquitous in the open workspaces common in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs – may be a sign that the good times are coming to an end.
"Is the tech bubble popping?" asks WSJ reporter Zusha Elinson. "Ping-pong offers an answer, and the tables are turning. In the first quarter of 2016 ... table sales [from one retailer] to companies fell 50 percent from the prior quarter. In that period, U.S. startup funding dropped 25 percent, says Dow Jones VentureSource."
But perhaps this represents something deeper. Ping-pong tables are, in fact, just one of the many perks considered normal in the tech industry, where work goes hand-in-hand with free food, alcohol, and even in-house massages, haircuts and laundry service. What this creates is not only a financial bubble, but a literal one too, where tech staff are living in a world separate from the rest of us, all their needs taken care of, with no reason to mix or integrate with the local community.
I saw this myself on a recent tour of Twitter's San Francisco headquarters, located in a beautiful building full of amenities: numerous in-house cafes, bars, a plethora of free food options and, yes, ping-pong tables. Yet, just down the street is one of San Francisco's poorest neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, with dozens of homeless people living within sight of the Twitter building. No ping-pong tables there, and the only free food can be found at the end of long, slow-moving soup kitchen lines. One more thing you won't find there – many interactions between those living in poverty and the tech staffers living in their bubble.
Perhaps the drop in ping-pong table sales is a sign that the tech boom is over. But perhaps it's also a sign that the industry has matured, and the era of cheap money and massive excess is over. And that could be a good thing. A sustainable, integrated tech community would be a better one. The only bubble that needs popping is the one in which perks like ping-pong tables are considered normal, while the impacts of the tech industry on local communities is ignored.
Image credit: Brett Hendon via Pixabay