Well, here’s Yet Another Blog On The Block.
Po Bronson’s next book was released recently – “What should I do with my life ?”. I got to know about Bronson when I picked up one of his earlier books “The Nudist on the late shift and other tales of the silicon valley” sometime in mid 2000. My journal entry – a personal one, not a weblog then – records some initial impressions of that book :
2nd July 2000
I picked the book because the title looked catchy, and it gave the impression that the book was more anecdotal rather than filled with analysis of how things in the silicon valley are or should be or will be in xyz years. And I was not disappointed.
As mentioned in one of the blurbs, Po Bronson does not get judgmental in the book. He puts forward facts the way he sees it, period. There are no long winding analysis and theories, so there is little one can fault him with.
Bronson is at his best when he focuses on a single person. There are a few chapters like that ( where he talks about Sabeer Bhatia the entrepreneur or Hillis the computer scientist….)…
He begins with a problem most people have with the Silicon Valley : the lack of any physical entity which one can associate with the valley. When people come to the valley after hearing so much about it, they are disappointed since there is nothing that signifies the “valley” – it is just another place with its offices and homes. To get a feel of the valley, you have do what Bronson does : meet and talk to people working in different capacities in the valley.
This is the first of Bronson’s work that I have encountered, and I find his method interesting : he arranges for meetings with people working in the valley – programmers, salesmen, entrepreneurs, writers etc – and follows the thread of that part of their lives which has got something to do with the silicon valley ( which, in most cases, is almost their entire lives : there is little else in life these people seem to do ). He meets the same people from time to time and follows up their story. Thus, in the “Newcomers” we get to meet a few newcomers to the valley – few of whom are struggling to establish themselves; in the “Programmers” we are taken into the lives of a few freelance programmers working on a game project; in the “Entrepreneur” we get to meet Sabeer Bhatia, the man behind “HotMail”……
The new book is much more ambitious in scope – Bronson is no longer confined to the Silicon Valley. His method in the new book seems to be similar to the one outlined above : he has spoken to around 900 people all over the US and chosen a few of them to spend more time with for his “case studies”. But the new book is unlikely to have that one characteristic I found pleasing about his previous book : a non-judgmental treatment of his subjects.
The topic addresses a very fundamental question, and a very important one too, for the times we live in. The timing is clearly important for such a book to be relevant – one cannot imagine such a book being of much relevance in the last century, simply because there were not enough choices available for the common man to think about what to do with one’s life. So that is a crucial – and probably unstated – assumption in the book : asking ourselves what we want to do with our lives must rely on the assumption that we do have different alternatives to choose from ( or to create ).
For the audience it addresses – educated people all over the world ? – the assumption mostly holds true today, so for all practical purposes it is not a limiting factor. What could prove to be a limiting factor – and this is only a guess, since I have not yet read the book – is the fact that Bronson’s subjects are mostly Americans. It would be interesting to see to what extent the experience of people living in the US prove to be representative of the issues confronting people asking a similar question in other societies which are very different – culturally, socially and economically – from the US.
I’ve read an extract from the book, and ordered it from Amazon. I’m looking forward to encountering the familiar brown package at my doorstep ( Amazon’s packages are too big for my small postbox ).