Following a piece published in the Guardian this week discussing the slow death of Silicon Roundabout, Tom Kile Hartshorn vents his frustrations with what he describes as a "wretched eye-sore".
I started working in Shoreditch just after the first dotcom bubble burst. Perhaps it was a simpler time, or perhaps I was just a little simpler. Even then, people were saying the area had lost its edge, but to my eyes it still had a very definite divey-urban charm. All five pubs in ‘the triangle’ had sticky floors and a single beer pump, you never saw anyone north of Moorgate wearing a suit and the cost of existence within the N1 borders reflected these largely unappealing qualities.
Over the last decade the inevitable happened and area was redeveloped. There now exists several Pret-A-Mangers, a sprinkling of Starbucks coffee shops and a raft of ‘executive dwelling’ tower blocks replete with billboards of stock photo models enjoying their ‘East London lifestyle’. A lot of these things I can overlook and even get used to over time, but what irks me the most about this nouveau-hipster promised land, is that it’s clearly still a shit-hole. A shit-hole that now commands 20 per cent above the (already crazy) London averages for housing or office spaces. Shoreditch is a poo rolled in cheap glitter.
So we arrive quickly at – what I’ll loosely call – the crux of my point. ‘Silicon Roundabout’, as it’s now called, can fuck right off. And while I’m at it, so can ‘Tech City’. Before I clamber up onto my high-horse and get overtly righteous about the Shoreditch ‘tech scene’, I want to mention how un-fucking-believably terrible The Roundabout is as a branding exercise. It reeks of a political headline-grabbing soundbite exercise, pulled together by money-men and people who don’t understand ‘The Twitters’. Its name alone is American bandwagoning of the highest order in the vague hope of making it seem “cool”. Not to any small UK businesses though, who actually might need the investment boost, but rather (as was much publicised) to large, tax-dodging companies such as Google, Vodafone and Amazon.
If you haven’t seen the glorious beacon of hope that is the titular roundabout itself, let me set the scene for you. I’m certain you have something bold in your mind’s eye, something elegant and futuristic, a landmark that people come from far and wide to marvel at. Like a British Pompidou Centre. In reality Old Street Roundabout is a wretched eye-sore, a large, busy traffic roundabout, loomed over by some of the ugliest architecture in the capital. Deep in the bowels of this concrete Helm’s Deep lies the retail glory of several sad looking ‘Gifts n Shit’ shops and, of course, the tube station. The only thing monumental about ‘Silicon Roundabout’ is the disappointment it must evoke in people who see it for the first time.
Maybe it’s my deep communist sympathies bubbling to the surface, but I’ve begun subscribing to Maciej Ceglowski’s school of thought (sole founder and operator of bookmarking service Pinboard.in), who recently announced the launch of his own venture capital fund. Maciej now offers all aspiring entrepreneurs the opportunity to apply for the princely sum of US$37 to aid in the development of their start-up idea, enough bankroll for six months of web hosting and a cup of coffee. This, he correctly reasons, is all anyone should need to get their idea up and running. If the idea is good enough the rest will fall into place, if not, then... you’re down $37.
The reason I like Maciej’s idea so much is simple: It’s the exact opposite of what Shoreditch has become and what Silicon Roundabout is trying to own. The idea, however flippant, cuts the hyperbolic bullshit, the middle-men and the ‘scene’ out of the equation completely and points out the obvious – all you need is a good idea. Location and financial backing are utterly irrelevant. So, while men in cheap suits are beating bushes around the ‘Ditch looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg, I’m secretly hoping someone in Birmingham is busying themselves on what will eventually become the next big thing, with nothing more than some cheap web hosting and a cup of Nescafe.
I’ll conclude as I began. Fuck Silicon Roundabout and fuck your start-up.
Tom Kile Hartshorn (@culturalelite) is creative director at Nation.
This article was first published in Can't Understand New Technology, Issue 1. Feb 2013.