Tech campuses: where truth is stranger than friction Kayleigh Platz November 12, 2014 Columns, Communitech, Ecosystem, Tech About Town What happens when you remove a tech guy from his corporate campus? This isn’t the start of a bad joke, though it might seem like it when you read on. The punchline is that real life gets annoying, according to Sam Lessin, a former VP who worked at Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters. Tech campuses, FYI, are massive compounds that house offices, dorms, gyms, dry cleaners, restaurants and other amenities that ensure employees don’t have to leave the property during working hours. For some, including Lessin, this is idyllic. He blogged about his experience of leaving Facebook, based in Menlo Park, and re-entering real life in San Francisco, where users, I mean humans, actually leave their offices to buy food, go to the gym and pick up dry cleaning. Instead of relishing these breaks and enjoying a walk, which science has proven helps with creativity and stress relief, Lessin said he found these breaks to be “little bits of friction” and a time tax that made him less efficient in his work. Some people want Waterloo Region to be the next Silicon Valley. If that means living inside a bubble, I’m glad to say we won’t be. We want our tech workers to call this region, and not just their workplaces, home. Why? Because it’s what helps us prevent the kind of tech disconnect that seems to be happening in other places – like the Valley. That disconnect is seen not only in the physical world of bubble-like tech campuses, but in the digital world as some of its creators drift ever farther from reality. Is this how companies like Yo – an app whose sole function is to send the word “yo” as a text or audio message – get funding and traction? Is this what passes for innovation when too much “friction” is removed from real life? Having tech companies located throughout the region, particularly in our downtown cores, helps to prevent this disconnect. This is important for three reasons: You need to get out of your own head. Working in cities means leaving the office for a workout, food or entertainment. In other words, the friction that should cause delight rather than irritation, and leads to daily interactions with retailers, bankers and people just trying to grab a coffee. You never know where your next great idea could come from. You care about your neighbours. We’re creating jobs and building a tech sector yes, but we’re also pre-emptively entering conversations to help limit extreme gentrification. We should be part of a larger community, and diversity is key to a strong and vibrant one. You can’t ignore the struggles of a city when you live in it daily. You feel like you have a home. Our workers will become more engaged and empathetic citizens. Full stop. We don’t live in a tech town. We live in Waterloo Region. And companies like Christie, Fibernetics, Kik and Thalmic work hard to be successful but also give back in time, money and technology. We are part of an incredible industry, but it’s important to remember that not everyone experiences work and life the way we do. We can still do better. As outgoing Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr noted in an interview with Communitech’s Tony Reinhart, we still need to do more to draw tech workers out of their workplaces. So my challenge to you this week is to go for a walk outside. Take a break. Put the smartphone down. Clear your mind. Buy a coffee. Eat at a new restaurant. Browse through a boutique or two, or even better, buy something. Say hi to a stranger. There are a lot of reasons we should want to emulate Silicon Valley, truly. It is the mecca of innovation and exploration, but Waterloo Region has its own culture that is up to all of us to create. Personally, I’ll embrace the friction of daily life and the obstacles and opportunities it presents, if it means living in a real community. *** If you’re looking for a great reason to get out in the city this week, I see and hear that… THEMUSEUM and Imbibe are launching the Beer+ series tonight, Wednesday, Nov. 12. The first of a monthly series sees Social Art KW teach attendees to paint. While you paint, enjoy a pint from Imbibe. The evening starts at 6:30 p.m. at THEMUSEUM on King Street in Kitchener… This Monday, Nov. 17 is the WRPS Auxiliary Stuff-a-Cruiser Toy Drive. Bring a new, unwrapped gift to the Cambridge Centre at 355 Hespeler Rd. in Cambridge to support the Waterloo Knights of Columbus 18th annual toy drive after 4 p.m… The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery is back with a fun networking night. #ColdNightsCoolArt is happening on Thursday, Nov. 20 beginning at 5:30 p.m. A ticket gets you a wine sampling by Chateau des Charmes and appetizers by Gilt Restaurant. Door prizes and gallery tours are also available.