A Field Guide to Silicon Valley Self-Denial

Everything means less than Zeno.

Doug Chayka

In the most self-indulgent place in America, nothing is hotter than self-denial. A sampling of the self-inflicted eschewals and mortifications of Silicon Valley’s tech lords:


1. Lean startup: Intermittent fasting can mean anything from skipping breakfast to not eating for a few days. Proponents claim these short fasts help increase focus and maybe even lifespan. “The first time I did it, like day three, I felt like I was hallucinating,” said Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, whose regimen has him eating only a meal a day. “I just found that I got so much more done during those fasting periods.” Fasting has been shown to have health benefits, but severe fasting can lead to malnutrition and eating disorders.
 
Notable enthusiasts: Dorsey; former Evernote CEO Phil Libin; Daniel Gross, former partner at Y Combinator

2. Dress code: In the early 1980s, Steve Jobs was inspired by the uniforms he saw on Sony’s workers in Tokyo. His employees rejected the black turtlenecks he had made for them, so the Apple co-founder adopted the look as a personal uniform. This style of no style has been adopted by his Silicon Valley progeny. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he wears the same boring T-shirts every day because it cuts down on the number of decisions he has to make.
 
Notable Enthusiasts: Jobs; Zuckerberg; former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes

3. No filter: The raw water fad began in 2017, part of the “rawism” movement that advocates eating only uncooked and unprocessed foods. Adherents believe that sipping regular tap water is like “drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them,” in the words of the founder of Live Water, which retails for up to $15 per gallon of unsterilized spring water. Before you fill your Hydro Flask with unfiltered lake water, remember, untreated water remains a public health menace in much of the world.
 
Notable enthusiasts: Juicero founder Doug Evans; Netflix and LinkedIn board member Skip Battle

4. Shrink different: Brought to you by the body-optimizing biohacking movement, the cold shower fad is all about creating “positive stress.” Supposed benefits include a stronger immune system, better circulation, and emotional resilience. Tech entrepreneur and blogger Tim Ferriss says he takes ice baths to hone his capacity for enduring pain.
 
Notable enthusiasts: Ferriss; Silicon Valley investor Joon Yun; American Giant CEO Bayard Winthrop

5. Byte me: Meal replacements, like Soylent’s soy-based drink, are a ubiquitous way for coders to engage in essential bodily functions without leaving their screens. Recently, Soylent released a 100-calorie protein bar called a “mini meal.”
 
Notable enthusiasts: Eric Shashoua, CEO of Zive; Tesla founder and union buster Elon Musk; Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian

6. Stride piper: Vibram’s FiveFingers shoes gained a toehold in the early 2010s as part of the barefoot running craze, popularized in part by Ferriss. The idea was that shoeless or minimally shod runners would have a more efficient stride and get fewer injuries. In 2012, a customer brought a class-action case against Vibram, accusing it of making deceptive and unproven claims about the health benefits of its footwear. (The suit was settled for $3.75 million.) More recently, Allbirds’ stripped-down wool shoe has entered the minimalist shoe space.
 
Notable enthusiasts: Alphabet CEO Larry Page; former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo; venture capitalist Ben Horowitz

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This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

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