While Agrawal’s article argues that those in Silicon Valley are developing for people who’re as saturated as they are, I think that he’s really missing what makes the Valley what it is. For decades, we’ve seen interesting ideas and products come out of California that are absolute flops. They’re not flops because the products are necessarily bad but because the deliverables don’t identify a real problem or offer a real solution. That’s not a bad thing, and critiques along grounds of ‘flops’ (and crafting products for the future, rather than the past) misses what’s important about the Valley’s function as a thought incubator: ideas are crafted and honed, underlying principles and technical challenges are ironed out, and eventually some bits and pieces of “failed” ideas and products tend to be integrated into the future’s successful product lines.
Innovative development, much like scholarly work, is often intellectually exciting and vibrant while lacking a direct market output. It’s because we can test, experiment, and play that cool things ultimately come out of the ether. If we demand that most, or all, of Silicon Valley’s (and academia’s) projects meet existing problems, and avoid dreamlike solutions to undefined issues, we’re going to see a lot less interesting and novel things that (seemingly) pop out of nowhere.