Monday, 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.

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