DISRUPT JAX

Like my homie Ron Littlepage (of Florida Times-Union fame), I too like to surf the World Wide Webs. (Though, as a Millennial, I am oblivious to what Littlepage intends when he claims to be “mousing around the news of the day” — mousing around? Were the early days of the Internet plagued by some sort of rodent infestation? I tried to look this up on my smart phone to no avail). And, like my media compadre, while perusing all those ones-and-zeros, I often find articles/pictures/listicles of intrigue.

(Swipe right.)

On Sunday, there was the New York Times articleabout how interested parties in the national battle for gay rights are moving resources from Houston, Texas — where the absurd “bathroom bill” gave the Christian right its first victory since, perhaps, California’s prop 8 — to right here in Jacksonville, Florida — where our elected officials will, in all likelihood, have an opportunity to vote on an HRO in the near future. Also, the T-U took a rather lengthy lookat how the city plans to fund proposed renovations to EverBank Field. And then there was a listicle from Metrojacksonville.com that asked the question, “Is Jacksonville the next Silicon Valley?”

Whoa. Pump the brakes.

First let me say, as an aside, that lately I’ve been falling in love with Northeast Florida all over again. This is partly due to the weather. While the majority of the country braces for impending snow, continued drought, or both, we here in Jax have had relatively clear skies, perfect temperatures, and (if you care) a run of good surf. While that’s plenty more than a person could ask for, the real reason I’m falling head-over-heels for the 904 right now is indelibly linked to all the cool shit people are doing. From new restaurants scattered in and around the urban core (Sbraga & Co., Il Desco, Folkfood) to new editions of local lit mags (Perversion Magazine,Bridge Eight) to new, locally produced music (Tambor, Katie Grace Helow), art shows (CoRK open house, Chip Southworth at Brew, Joe Segal at Florida Mining) and theater openings (Bold Theatre’s “Circle Mirror Transformation”and “Godspell”at Players by the Sea — neither of which I’ve had time to see, yet), there is a lot happening and a lot to point to when making an argument for Duval County as an area on the rise.

Is it the next capital of innovation, though? Will it pave the way for the next tech revolution?

The well-intentioned folks at metrojacksonville.com bolster this premise — of Jax playing a key role in the next wave of disruption — with a list of six sensible-if-you-don’t-think-about-them reasons why Jacksonville could be the next Silicon Valley. While the arguments presented are as flimsy as they are random (Jax’s low sales tax is cited, for example, when there is little evidence that low sales tax sparks innovation), what’s really interesting about the article is the introduction, in which the editors of the blog state that they believe things to be “more complex” than the arguments presented in the listicle, before offering that a different website, one called socialmonsters.org, composed the editorial.

Strangely enough, a visit to socialmonsters.org turns up what appears to be a content generating site that claims to have “developed a unique model that seamlessly fills gaps in your editorial calendar, enables consistent posting and guarantees content relevant to your audience.”

Curated click-bait? How wonderful!

Here’s more about what socialmonsters.org does:

“Our team takes on the task of sorting through ideas, finding sources and managing writers to deliver a complete story tailored to your audience. We collaborate to develop the right shareworthy story at the right time to help you engage readers and move the needle on site traffic.”

(Swipe left.)

While having some half-assed third-party website generate content to get the needle moving on your “local” digital publication might not be as egregious as the Times-Union subtly modifying parent company Morris Communications’ CEO William S. Morris’ xenophobic editorials and publishing them as its own (as they were apparently instructed to do), it likely isn’t how things are done in “the next Silicon Valley.”

Now, is this a conversation worth having? Is there an argument to be made for Jacksonville sprouting a few unicorns from Polar Pods and Bible-binding services (actual One Spark “tech” winners)? Well, that’s for you to decide, needle-mover.

My two cents, some place adjacent to New Orleans with the massive influx of federal capital they received in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or near Charleston with its dug-in university culture and inherent charm or outside of Austin with its … well … SXSW are much more likely to create the synergy needed for such a boon. Besides, we here in the 904 can really wear hoodies only three months out of the year. In the article’s comments section, a needle-mover named Captain Zissou put it this way: “Sounds to me like ‘cheap cost of business and abundant workforce.’ I’d say we’re the next Mumbai or Manila before the next Silicon Valley. Companies move operations to Jax in order to ‘near shore’ as a cost-cutting measure. That’s still good, but we’re not Silicon Valley.”

Captain Zissouis right: That’s still good. We’re making some strong moves. And when you stop and take a look around Northeast Florida, you’re likely to notice that progress abounds. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s focus on holding our local publications to a higher standard.

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