Rory Cellan-Jones’ blog post yesterday about the challenges that UK tech start-ups face getting attention, relative to those in Silicon Valley, got me thinking about the differences between the UK and US.
Mike Butcher, TechCrunch’s European editor, told Rory Cellan-Jones that he thinks it’s the negative coverage that the UK media gives technology that’s the problem, citing an example of a piece in the Guardian about an alleged increased risk of stalking from using foursquare (the location-based social network). While I think Mike has got a point about UK journalists loving the Quatermass-like threat of new technology, he’s neglecting an enthusiasm for technology that stretches back to Tomorrow’s World and is alive today in Click or even Rory Cellan-Jones’ own blog posts and podcasts.
I think the problem is deeper – the innate conservatism (small ‘c’) of the British compared to Americans. We’re still secretly sympathetic to the Luddites and frame-weavers whose craft-based lifestyle was swept away by the Industrial Revolution and we’re suspicious of innovation – look at the furore over GM crops in the ’80s. In contrast, the USA is the land of ‘Venturesome Consumption’ to use the phrase coined by Professor Amar Bhide. Bhide’s thesis is that what gives the USA its clear productivity edge over all other economies is the willingness of both US companies and individual consumers to try out and then adopt new technology. Buying that new iPad is seen as an investment in essential new personal skills rather than a self-indulgent acquisition of a new toy. Even the smallest US business is much more likely to use IT for stock control, marketing or logistics than its European counterpart.
In the end, it’s the enthusiasm even, dare I say it, zest for life shown by people in the Valley like Robert Scoble that infects their exploration of new things and the way they evangelise about them to others. A good dose of ‘glass half full’ is what we Brits need – maybe a rainless summer might start to change the national outlook and let start-ups like Psonar make a bigger splash (if you’ll forgive the pun).