Toponymy was conflated with metonymy in the naming of a region of California first coined to capture the property lots sold to silicon chip manufacturers in the Santa Clara Valley, but then extended to the settling of high-tech companies in the broader area, and finally to the sector of the American economy that has grown around computing and, even more broadly, software and user experience. The metonymical expansion of the region of Silicon Valley, englobing Cupertino, San Jose and Palo Alto, belies its own continued insularity, however, and the difficulty of gaining an insider’s view on the complex fortunes and amazing concentration of investment that the region has continue to secure even past the Ages of Google, LinkedIN, Facebook, and Twitter that have changed the face of global interaction–with their redefinition of “friendship,” personal communication, and indeed the personal that have increasingly altered sociability worldwide.
Despite the legendary open-ness and meritoriousness of Silicon Valley, the reasons for its economic exceptionalism are difficult to map in a legible form. The metonymy of its felicitous toponym is so easily removed from geographical place to extend wherever the industry of which it become a metonym has spread, indeed, that what “Silicon Valley” is is less clear than the swarming that it has become. Inhabitants of “Silicon Valley” are more properly mapped as corporations, rather than physical landmarks or actual inhabitants–and the region is best defined by those liminal spaces or heterotopia through which pass monies, patents, engineers, designers, security experts and goods. For despite the specificity of an evocation the region once known as the Santa Clara Valley, the spread of “Silicon Valley,” as its products touch the world, are more difficult to objectively survey than regions of California or the United States: and with even the maps of Silicon Valley insisting on a topical focus, and perpetually redrawn in vague bounds, the parallel compulsion to map Silicon Valley–to try to localize the increasingly floating toponym first coined as a clever compression by marketers, and reveal it as a landscape of its own. For the very same region that grew with the evangelical conviction that its products serve to “make the world a better place” have in turn erased one of the more bucolic places on earth: indeed, local differentiation wha was named Silicon Valley is for the most part vanishing at the same time as it grows by providing an alternate reality mediated by the personal screen.
Santa Clara Valley, 1914 (from Mount Hamilton), History San Jose
The evangelical conviction of its corporations have, however, provided the very economic gospel by which it has so broadly spread to describe, by further metonym, the industry of high tech that has swarmed across the current Valley. “Silicon Valley” was far more than a place from its first naming some forty-five years ago, and rarely appeared on maps of California maps even five years before its corporate settlement was increasingly mapped the logos and locations of its major companies and its charted corporate density over areas that now span from Santa Cruz to Sacramento. Despite multiple maps and remapping of the region, it resists mapping: the area might be most famously rendered by maps of economic performance, but the poster maps produced annually produced by Silicon Maps of its sun-drenched landscape make a unique promise of the existence of this made-up toponym as a place one can observe, if it is barely visible from the freeways through the region, from which one has no sense of entering a place or space. The maps do heavy lifting both in manufacturing this place, persuading one that one can comprehend its expanse: the map makes good on the story of a toponymy without etymological significance, but reflects the explosion of interest in the memory stored in the material chip, and the abilities of data compression it allows, and is less a location than a designation of a target for investors. (Toponymy here does not generate metonymy, as Bordeaux wine or Roquefort cheese, but metonymy designates the region it has by extension overwhelmed: the region has itself become a metonym for a way of life adopted world-wide and mediated though a “personal” screen.)
The figurative notion of the region–a Valley that grows Silicon Chips!–naturalizes the swarming of the region in recent years. And in illustrating the continued symbolic fertility of the region, such promotional maps reflect its settlement of its actual landscape by industry. They document Silicon Valley’s privileged position in our mental imaginary and economy–both as a desired destination and a site of innovation aimed–without recognizable borders, and the conflation of corporate identity with the actual landscape. The expansion of such a”place” over forty-five years demands examination as recreating the region as a center of investment, and a center of financial attention, that affirms its own centrality in the expanding security services and interactive industries that are available online. For even as the continued centrality of the place of Silicon Valley as a center of start-ups seems contested, the material configuration of Silicon Valley demands to be mapped not for the dynamics of its workspace or the valuation of its multiple corporations but for the difficulty in mapping how its openness as a continued site for speculation and fertility concealed the pronounced lack of transparency in remaking its landscape as a continuous region that extended far beyond its original historical location, as an abundance of corporations congregated from the 280 to the 680 to remake a territory spanned by orchards just forty years before.
Silicon Maps (2013)
If such maps are particularly clever sleights of hand, by which corporations themselves mask the environmental impact that their settlement of the area from Cupertino to Mountain View to Menlo Park and across Silicon Valley, to an extent that technology companies employ some 27% of the jobs that exist in the region, it’s no secret that the paving over of a huge section of the sun-drenched region once filled with plum and apricot orchards, the increasing amount of land in the Valley’s Mediterranean climate that is now paved have expanded the demolition of much of San Jose and its landcover, rendering it more prone to urban heat, even as Silicon Valley corporations like Google and Yahoo compete for being more green, and, since 2011, Microsoft, ScanDisk, National Semiconductor, and Yahoo have thrown more money at serious efforts of tree-planting with local non-profit Canopy as cities from Palo Alto to San Jose took proprietary ownership and protection of remaining trees–and to renewable energy. Yet trees of the region were already beset by drought from the 1990s, and the rapid growth of San Jose, fed largely by the swarming of Silicon Valley, over an area where some 60% of the land is now covered by impervious roads, buildings, and parking lots whose urban tree canopy has often fell below 15% in 2013, when the city council anxiously planned additional potential tree planting sites in its parking lots, sidewalks, and public streets.
And yet, the removal of many of these allegedly “green” corporate campuses remain far from public transportation, often in ways criticized for their car-dependent design. A considerable degradation of the environment of Silicon Valley occurred with the expansion of a corporate swarming of the region, often poorly mapped by economic metrics of the amount of moneys invested in the region or its economic returns. Despite the potential mobility of Silicon Valley as a space of investment, entrepreneurial interest, and the circulation of commodities, rather than a place of residence or work, the expansion of this corporate map suggests the contradiction between the local site where Fairchild Semiconductors still lies and the expansive region of the Bay Area that has now become an extension of what was once a single region. While Silicon Valley is often mapped as a genealogy of corporations or a shift from industry to consumer goods that emerged as the internet and information highway reconfigured economic life, what would it look like to consider not its corporate networks, but the balance between the access to its space that it seemed to offer and the relative opacity created by its technological and corporate worlds? The difficulty to map Silicon Valley lies less in its mobility or dynamism, than the ways it seek to normalize its relation to space, defining a single site of origination, even as it continues to cannibalize territory in direct relation to the growth of the traffic of internet-based businesses: for the region becomes an increasing site for the traffic of money, software expertise, and employment in something of a physical reminder of the expansion of web-based commerce.
The ongoing project of pictorial mapping of the region records a continual rewriting of the region around the myths of Silicon Valley’s flourishing and uniqueness, and an increasing amnesia toward its own sense of place. This post suggests that the illusion of its continued coherence and vitality has continued to attract entrepreneurial investment by cultivating an idea of open-ness, even if its culture is in fact quite closed. By using a variety of maps of the region’s inhabitation, it seeks to reconcile the balance between insider and outside perspectives on how its unique relation to space. Indeed, a recent mapping of the sites of entrepreneurship–rather than work, property, or legal entities or municipalities–led Scott Stern to map the region as first and foremost as a space of “high-impact entrepreneurship,” rather than as a location, that began in the South Bay, east to Livermore, north to Marin County, and up along the peninsula. Even as Silicon Valley is under assault for the pronounced clubbiness of its culture of programmers and pronounced lack of female venture capitalists, the region has remained a particularly privileged site for valuation, investment, and speculation unlike other regions in the country that regard it as the space to watch for the Next Big Thing–despite its many possible emulators as tech hubs around the world–from Silicon Hills, Silicon Forest, Silicon Prairie, Silicon Square, Philicon Valley (Philadelphia) to Silicon Allée, Silicon Wadi, Chilecon Valley (Santiago), and many more who seek to define the unique relation of local and global in a post-industrial economy.
For the place of Silicon Valley as a node of technology, interactivity and user experience that seems a gateway to global markets seems to be able to be reproduced, but seems to retain a unique relation to space, balancing its ideals of open-ness against the sources of its intense concentration of worldly capital. Its steel and glass smokeless buildings of offices and parks are increasingly integrated into its verdant landscape, as if to blend nature and culture and naturalize the flourishing of its corporations–as much as its residents. Indeed, despite a huge growth in the salaries and benefits of the successful few of the current information economy, the continued stagnation of wages of middle- and lower-income workers’ wages have meant that income inequality across Silicon Valley is increasingly unequal–and few can afford to exist in its currently elevated real estate market, where in four decades a predominantly agricultural economy of land-use has been replaced by a growing of what goes under the name of an “information economy,” whose leaders once preached egalitarianism, and continue to espouse a sort of meritocracy, but where even as the local job market expands, some 20% of household incomes stagnate below 30,000, and a further 35% are between 35,000 and 99,000–even as the region generates extraordinary wealth: incomes of high-wage earners stood some 4.4 times that of low-wage earners, higher than anywhere in California–a quite pronounced high wage/lower income inequality, despite an apparent Gini Coefficient of income inequality approaching zero (0.44461).
As a unique center of investment in the expanding information highway of the early 1990s, the maze of highways in Silicon Valley became nourished by bus-loads of tech workers, software engineers, and coders who moved through what existed more as a non-place–a site through which moved capital, products, and goods, rather than worked in its physical site. Yet the continuity and identity of the region as a site of continued fertility is clear. If as a region it remained difficult to circumscribe, the continued vitality and coherence of Silicon Valley has been an important founding myth for the region: the maps of its landscape, as the annually produced vanity maps in the header to this post, foreground the shifting cast of characters in the region’s main actors, driven by valuation, and reveal a distribution that lacks any localized center or fixed bounds. The myth of the economic insularity of Silicon Valley as a spontaneous generator of profits just recently resurfaced in Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address, when the President repeated a narrative of how the region created “jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago–jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla . . .” and privileged the region as emblematic of the most well-off. The continued rhetoric that the Silicon Valley map deploys of corporate plenty had not only infiltrated the State of the Union by 2015, but the President tacitly recognized the its arrival as a significant lobbying force in Washington, as social media now tops the list of big spenders to the tune of $14 million a year.
The attempts to map the growth of a network of its corporate community reveals its distinct character by both currying attention by inviting examination of an insider’s perspective and resisting being objectively mapped, often by revealing contradictions in its own coherence. And at the same time as achieving net neutrality, urging that the strongest “possible rules” to keep the internet open, fast, and without regulation, the laudable endorsement reveals Silicon Valley’s increasingly privileged place as a sizable corporate lobby and newfound political clout. (It seems somewhat cynical hyperbole for the President to cast cyberspace as a new “Wild West” where “everybody is online, and everybody is vulnerable” at a Cybersecurity Summit in Palo Alto, given recent exposure of back-door programs of government surveillance by the NSA, the multiple stops of both President Obama and former President Clinton to the region signal its political prominence.)
1. The difficulties of mapping Silicon Valley seems rooted in the contradictions between its vaunted openness and the difficulty of understanding the dynamics of its space with anything like transparency. While Silicon Valley has origins in apparently opening its insider network as a landscape of speculation and valuation, the network of investment that animates the valley is of necessity opaque, making objective mapping particularly difficult to render its commercial operations in clearly legible form. Since “Silicon Valley” first appeared in maps of California in the mid-1980s, it has loomed large in the mental imaginary as creating a space for interaction between investors, coders, software engineers, start-ups, and tech workers that blurred familiar lines of investment, work and even physical space. If the term concealed the ways that such an interaction occurred, it has become of the site of a far greater density than its first pioneers could have ever imagined, or that the spawning of business cards across a sun-drenched valley south of San Francisco openly conveyed.
The map of the region “Silicon Valley” in the promotional posters Silicon Maps compiles constitute social registries of the region, as well as a conceit of marketing which would continue to cultivate prospective clients–“Sponsors: Put Your Company on The Map!™” The promotional poster placing industrial and corporate centers that are often hard to see from the road create something like an insider’s view of its landscape, and and a surrogate for revealing the growing valuation of their own industries. But as any poster, they paper over the business dynamics they herald, speaking less to outsiders or visitors than to those already initiated and in the know. They might merit as such some initial scrutiny for how they confront the amorphous constitution of Silicon Valley over time, and the shifting cast of characters it involves. For even though the “silicon chip” is less emblematic of the region today, and chip manufacturing spread to Asia and offshore areas, the metonym that the toponym promises in this propositional image of the coherence of the region, moving from the individual object (the silicon chip) to the industry, and the name of region that is less due to anything inherent about its place or inhabitants than the software industry it suggests, and the goods that circulate through it–rather than the place that they create. For this erasure of place–and indeed the constitution of the region as less of a fixed place, than a space through which money, goods, capital, intellectual property, and corporations move, as so many commuters–suggests the unique nature of Silicon Valley as a non-place (more on that later), and the triumph of metonymic function over a toponymic stability in its name. For the shifting architecture of Silicon Valley as a metonym for the industry that exists there makes a walking tour of towns like Cupertino, Menlo Park, San Jose or Palo Alto an illuminating illustration of how the arrival of industry has changed space.
Silicon Maps, 1991 (detail)
The annually produced colorful pictorial maps, one reproduced in the header to this post, records the corporate swarming of Silicon Valley as well as a sort of social register of the region, as much as a map with directionality that might help evidence a sense of itself as a physical space. While the map is an advertisement that is self-made, and Desrosiers solicits local corporations to place themselves on its twisting freeways, the result nicely evokes something like a “non-place”–a site of the transit of products, technology, and funds, served by winding roads, freeways and expressways, familiar to the insider, which one enters on the 101, along its low-density buildings and placards. The sequence of promotional maps, once assembled collectively, suggest the expansion of Silicon Valley as a site of entrepreneurial investment that resists easy interpretation.
The vanity maps of local corporate clusterings have more than totemic value: for they figuratively document the novel semantics of the ever-changing, mutable and actually overlapping spaces of Silicon Valley as a sort of fertility cult whose corporate residents heralds themselves as the site of the future, and the recession of the landscape of its past. If “Silicon Valley” became a place-name as a form of branding, its currency and solidity concealed its own continual reframing and negotiation as a site of corporate logos of varied online platforms, rather than as a specific place, but to manufacture a sense of place of particular attraction. The region emerged as a site funded by government subsidies, to be sure, before emerging as a hotbed of start-ups, but was able to naturalize its own ongoing fertility in ways that concealed the complete transformation of its landscape. Virtually an integrated circuit of its own, the landscape, once naturalized as a center of technological commerce and clean industry, replaced the landscape of orchards that once defined the bucolic nature of the Santa Clara Valley or Valley of Heart’s Delight. For Silicon Maps marked metaphorical toponym naturalized a landscape of regeneration as a landscape of innovation and perpetuation revaluation in its annually generated maps, even as the site declined as the manufacturing industry for electronics that it once was: what was once a site for producing semiconductors or transistors became one of ongoing innovation in the tech industry and providers of internet platforms and exchange, concealing the transactions and flows of investment that brought it to life, and presenting the many forces it brings into reaction with one another in a global economy with the image of a static location–akin to the landscape of the Santa Clara Valley that it has replaced, and gives an apparent materiality and location to a site which is both difficult to map and based on a world-wide circulation of goods.
The maps suggest how Silicon Valley might be mapped both as a conceptual space and against its actual configuration, if only so that we can better gauge the distance between the two, and to consider the unique relation of its “place” as a corporate network, rather than a community. The sense of swarming of the Valley that Desrosiers has continued to map from 1989 so compellingly through the present offers a mirror of the swarming of Silicon Valley far beyond the eighty chip manufacturers that spread along highways from Palo Alto to San Jose, boosted by an availability of cheap (most often immigrant) labor, as had worked its earlier orchards of plums. Even as the actual farmers left the Valley, and the green space far receded, with the swarming of industrial campuses and, soon, islands of corporate minicities on the peninsula, the density of Silicon Valley is difficult to chart, because it seems so spread out. The insularity of the community is as distinct as its much-vaunted open-ness and the premium it placed on a devotion to freedom, equality, and rational thought. The swarming of Silicon Valley is based on a long-standing vangelism of tech, however, as much as for folks in search of work: if not an organized religion in any way, the theology of technology has continued to define the swarming of the Valley–and the mutual recognition of its members–in ways that made Silicon Valley a curious community of believers, but one hard to map from the outside; it also made it a center of investment whose benefits, paradoxically, rarely reached most of its residents.
The region providing platforms to the world is not organized as a clear workspace or a set of clear property lines, but as corporate entities and logos, and where the bulk of the wealth produced has proved increasingly elusive for many of its residents, and indeed leads many of its residents to leave.
2. Even while the mobility of tech has grown, the resilience of the name on which sales force teams had hit–“Silicon Valley”–has stuck as a space with connotations of continued fertility, lent coherence to its components even across a dot-com bust-and-crash: metaphorically and conceptually, as a distinct ecosystem whose economy remained more resilient than that of the nation. “Silicon Valley” retains a privileged place in our mental imaginary–both as a desired destination and a site of innovation aimed to be recreated elsewhere–despite the challenges in defining it as a space that exists materially or cartographically. “How was I to know,” Hoefler wrote in 1981, “that the term would quickly be adopted industry-wide, and finally become generic worldwide?” If January 11, 2015 marks the forty-fourth anniversary of the first naming of the region in print, the transformation of the considerable work done by its naming to suggest the emergence of the semiconductor industry in the South Bay extends far beyond the fairly tongue-in-cheek popularization of the term by newspaperman Don Hoefler, who first used it for a column in Electronic News, adapting the term he overheard from folks in marketing semiconductors to create a column that presented the “insider story” of the industry in ways that would generate its own cartographical legacy as a region that could, indeed, be mapped.
The insider nature of the HBO special “Silicon Valley” has provided a huge source of its attraction and appeal–and the lure of its green hills that defined it as a destination and a site deserving of investors’ attention that led it to be so prominently foregrounded on their maps–so much so that rather than directly puncture or satire the hype of start-up culture and the values of techies or entrepreneurs, the show seems more of a situation comedy that is sprinkled with tech jargon and adult humor, which admires a shrine of tech culture from afar.
For Silicon Valley was constantly rewriting its own present, and the notion of mapping what was a center of hi-tech with the notions of natural fertility had a considerable cognitive appeal. Innovation was always inscribed on its landscape. Back in 1982, Moira Johnston observed that even if “Silicon Valley appears on no map, this former California prune patch is [now] the heartland of an electronics revolution that may prove as far-reaching as the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century” and “cutting edge technology stumbling over itself its competitive a rush to the marketplace.” The region quickly captured one-fifth of the global market for silicon chips, then valued at over 15 billion, creating ties to a marketplace even as microprocessors manufacturing has receded into its long-distant past, and enjoyed an amazing resilience as a center of investment, entrepreneurial capitalism and redefinition of new online providers of web-based services.
The conceptual work of remapping the industry that “Silicon Valley” provided helped in the material construction of the region, giving its material creation and consequences an air of stability, and even inevitability. Although the chip fabrication factories that used to dot a zone once manufacturing integrated circuits and semiconductors are shuttered, and in the corporations in Silicon Valley increasing attention is gained by “napkin” products of marketing ingenuity, the growth of the compressive capacities of silicon chips remain emblematic of a Valley that continues to warp our sense of space, and be talismanic for the Next Big Thing. Even as silicon wafers have come to take the form of chiplets more easily printed than etched, their use as microprocessors or repositories of memory will continue to expand online platforms, driven by the doubling every two years of the transistors able to be etched onto a silicon chip. This post examines the constancy in the shifting definition of Silicon Valley in concealing the space it offers to bring together different communities, and remaps the relation of its material creation to what was once the Santa Clara Valley.
The annual images that map the Valley created by Desrosiers and what is now Silicon Maps replaces regional toponymy with a rough collation of business cards, at an intersection of branding and information, but can hardly be said to really constitute a “space” or “place.” The product provides a telling encomium to the region and its contradictions, and the difficulty of knowing what to map–or what data to choose to examine and foreground–when one looks at the region in which a clustering of corporations have defined themselves as its residents, designed to boost businesses’ market valuation in a region where valuation is the name of the game–noting the “high perceived value to the people who receive it.”
Silicon Maps (1991)
Attempts to embody its corporate clustering as a verdant bucolic space is evident in the popular maps that defined the region from 1989–the other year of its coming of age. Desrosiers’ maps were explicitly crafted annually for explicitly promotional ends, but their continuous appearance for almost twenty years register how Silicon Valley entailed a conscious re-writing of a performative relation to space, erasing the bucolic scenery that once characterized the Santa Clara Valley first with manufacturing industries that concealed the waste they generated, and then with a constellation of corporations among which the freeways–so integral to its creation–almost disappeared, and toponymy almost vanishes within a network of corporate logos that once recalled business cards in a verdant landscape. Silicon Valley’s predominant industry required no fixed or discrete location, and was situated behind computer terminals, but Desrosiers mapped a sun-drenched space in which brands figuratively blossom, selling its image of fertility, from the year of the Loma Prieta earthquake, as a microcosm of commerce in California’s coast, his maps reveal more about its performative relation to space than the many data visualizations of its productivity or the investments it has attracted, and provide a fitting entrée into an exploration of how Silicon Valley has created a unique relation to space.
To be sure, the map defined Silicon Valley as a unique place–remaking it against other images of urban centers as lying outside of a built environment, and not able to be mapped as lying on straight or clearly surveyed lines. Desrosiers’ view of Silicon Valley as a single microcosm–resembling the “microcosmic” city views after the cartoonist Saul Steinberg’s 1976 rendering of westward bird’s-eye view of New York, View of the World from Ninth Avenue, while careful not to infringe on issues of copyright–questions its relation to the concept of place, and indeed of the Valley’s status where the world is no longer understood or measured by fixed lines, but opens before the viewer as a Valley of corporate logos, each moored locally but proliferating world-wide online. The encomia to corporate plenty referenced a longstanding tradition of the encomiastic views of urban architecture; but “freed” from a specific setting, buildings are replaced by corporate structures whose online presence resonate the viewer more than the verdant surroundings to resurrect the forty-five year old slogan that trumpets a bucolic setting of the “glocal”, as if it were environmentally conducive to corporate growth. Conveying an image of corporate stability, the annually reissued mapping of ‘Silicon Valley’ would spread north to San Francisco by 2001, both to reflect the inability for its corporations to be confined, and encompass the multiplication of investment, spinning off of further companies and projects expanded that expanded on the internet and tech boom, spurred by the inflation of real estate and the filling-in of what seemed an open area of cheap land. The formerly secluded verdant paradise can’t contain the proliferation of brands formerly nested in its landscape as more corporations wanted to show clients that they had arrived. By that time, the almost improbable pastoral metaphor was a figure of speech, the collective of corporations had spread across the entire Bay Area.
This post uses maps to make sense of the relations between people and place that emerged in Silicon Valley, as much as the relations between people and objects, or the space that the region created to interact with machines. For Silicon Valley is indeed defined not less by its inhabitants than the corporations based there, from those who responded to invitations from Stanford University to settle in lots sold to attract business to the region to the start ups who congregate in its space. The result created a space through which investors, programmers, start-ups and coders circled each other in ways that would forever alter the lay of the land. Mike Judge’s satire of the culture of programmers, engineers, eccentric venture capitalists, and excess, where money wildly circulates, appeals as an insider story of how Silicon Valley became far more than a fixed geographical place for reasons and escaped categories: bound by the paved paths of route 101 and the 280, and now to 680 or 880 and beyond, and viewed in motion, one negotiates the Valley as a sprawling corporate space straddling municipalities, stretching from San Jose, Santa Clara, and Mountain View to Palo Alto and Foster City or beyond: the region is an interlocking swath of the Bay Area that call attention to themselves, more than a freeway exit, but as a space of transit, through which course large sums of capital as well as creativity–although the focus on the Valley as a source of the production of value has often obscured its own unique sense of space or the space it creates. Silicon Valley is no longer distinguished as one site of entrepreneurial investment, to be sure, but an entire region that has attracted an incredibly significant investment across a growing geographical expanse.
Martin Prosperity Institute
The swarming of investment is somewhat decentralized and widespread. Yet Silicon Valley remains, in a geographic imaginary, a place which advertises where one has arrived–and must pay attention–but exists as only a “place” that one can arrive if one has an insider’s map.
The special place of the region nation-side is more evident in a mapping of venture capital investment across the nation:
Martin Prosperity Institute
3. Despite sustained attention to the uniqueness of Silicon Valley’s economy, Silicon Valley is emblematic of a shift in our sense of space and its inhabitation: its growth might be mapped as a relation between firms of electronics and shrinking wilderness formerly characteristic of the region, and, as much as a new culture of work, maps a new reaction between work and space in an area whose former orchards are now largely paved.
As much as the rationality of economic models, the collective action of swarming may provide a helpful model to understand and unpack the historical growth of the Valley’s sustained economic productivity, quite unlike the genealogies of corporations, or IPO’s backed by Google Ventures or other venture capitalists that have been created to describe its generations of commercial growth. For swarming conveys how the expansion of the Valley, or with a fixed center, has spread and grown by quite unique criteria that don’t seem to abide by the rationalist principles of most all programmers or CEOs. Silicon Valley has been long mythologized as an anti-industrial space, whose unique workspace was defined by synergy and trumpeting itself as a flex space at the forefront of a tech revolution, but the changing relation to space of the region was not fully understood. The physical space of Silicon Valley is poorly understood when imagined to have a center, physical footprint, or in relation to an urban economic environment–even though it seems to stand at the center of the world. Silicon Valley seems defined by an ongoing swarming to Silicon Valley, despite venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s 2012 prediction that, as work moves to the cloud, “software is eating the world” erasing the distinctions between locations. The corporate preeminence that the Valley endures–a preeminence reflected in the regions’ hyper-inflated real estate prices, the daily swarming of commuters who can’t afford to live nearby, the swarming to industrial cities, the swarming of spin-offs, or of the intensity of investment that distinguishes the region outside of the way we designate place or partition space, and has an at least two-fold existence for those who participate in its economy and those who view the economy from afar. Even as crowd-sourcing has become not only one of the new mantras of the internet, but Silicon Valley a source that has expressed increased confidence in crowds as sources of knowledge-production and distributed problem-solving, the effects of the swarming of Silicon Valley is poorly understood as a self-conscious relation to space.
The contradictory nature of Silicon Valley is illustrated in its radical transformation of itself as a place. The environment of the Valley is often, to be sure, obscured by its powerful myths. In fact, the multiple spaces of Silicon Valley–manicured green spaces of corporate parks; freeways; open office spaces; self-contained islands; sites of toxic waste; homeless encampments; sites of toxic waste; wilderness–coexist without the harmony that is imagined in the bucolic visions of the Valley that this header describes. The contradictions between these spaces are only hinted at in the visions of the valley we get from Google Maps or what seems the hazily populated region in Earth View.
If we can see that an increasing expanse of Silicon Valley is now paved over–the disappearance of greenspace in Silicon Valley and much of the peninsula is legendary–what spotty areas of greenspace remains seems hemmed in, despite increasing calls for coordinated sustained development of the region, either built on or paved with asphalt or concrete or threatened to disappear, as less and less of the region is covered by trees–and seems to have grown as the Valley that once existed was replaced by buildings, freeways, pavement and parking lots. As if in inverse relation to the shrinking of global space online, the expansion of the Valley as a site of work and investment has continued to warp the lived geography of the west coast and its environment in somewhat startling ways, only recently appreciated as we distance ourselves from the mythos of the region’s talismanic synergy.
In a world where the world wide web flattens relations of production and consumption, if not of global culture, Silicon Valley has remained a spike for entrepreneurial investment. But it remains a liminal space, outside urban environments, or even a “rim city.” Silicon Valley is not only a visibly heterogenous space, but one challenges criteria of geographical meaning in ways that make it all the more difficult to map or chart: it juxtaposes multiple sites, themselves often incompatible with one another, in a single site, each linked to different senses of space and time. In this sense, its “space” may better correspond to Michel Foucault’s notion of a “heterotopia” of modernity, as a space that stands apart from the conventions that mark the division of space or measuring of time, that seems open to all, but is accessible by few, and stands outside most of the criteria of measurement we use in maps. To examine these spaces, this post aims to consider the steep changes that its growth has wrought on the region’s environment and on its lived space. As much as map the economic performance of its major players and the genealogies among electronics firms, start-ups, and corporate brachiation of micro-computing, this post turns attention to the changing space of Silicon Valley as a region redefined by its status as a center of continued transit and the phenomenon of swarming in ways that have offset the very mobility that the internet seems to allow.
The coherence of the conceptual pace of Silicon Valley is notoriously difficult to map both because it changed so quickly, and because so little of its true construction or inner mechanisms seem evident in a simple land-map or the “spatial configuration” of such a unique post-industrial space, especially one that looms so large in a spatial imaginary. For it abandons the conventional categories by which geographical space is understood of proximity and scale, and even metageographical concepts of rim cities or corporate suburbia; its economy suggests a megacity with unique ties to a global economy. Silicon Valley long ago abandoned property lines of the orchards that once defined the Valley of Heart’s Delight, where migrant workers supplied the world with what seemed an endless supply of dried apricots, cherries, and prunes. Rather than a center of agriculture or yearly crops, the region is now in large part paved over–just under 60% of the region is paved, and only 15% covered with trees–in ways that have altered its landscape from the past.
San Jose Mercury News
If the name “Silicon Valley” conjures the riches of a recent agrarian past, that past is removed in time and space, not only in San Jose but far around.
4. Swarming captures an instinctual collective pattern, as much as a rational plan, as a figure of speech. The multiplication of corporations on the ground around the Bay Area often imagined as geneology proving too complicated and brachiated to map by the 1990s, the multiplication of corporate presences throughout the Bay Area demands to be examined as a new relation to space. “Swarming” implies an animal-like hearding and multiplication removed from the precepts of rationality that are claimed to underlie Silicon Valley, and an unconscious collective activity. The swarming of Silicon Valley cannot be best charted empirically, financial, or economically, but in its continued vitality as a privileged site of innovation: the image of abundance and fertility is preserved in the maps marketed annually by Silicon Maps that explicitly cultivate this myth. Pictorial maps such as that pictured in the header to this post mask the environmental degradation of the Valley, and suggest the difference between how Silicon Valley is viewed quite differently from within or without its corporate spaces. The deep cognitive dissonance between this metaphorical mapping and the crowded configuration on the ground, and the perennial attractive sheen perpetuated in Desrosiers’ tableaux depicting a space one wants to inhabit, inhabited by who has been able to settle on its sunny shores, that may be absent for the uninitiated.
Silicon Valley is bound by freeway mobility and displacement, as one-time relatively cheap land was converted into corporate campuses, and at the same time being an experience–a fact which Mike Judge captures so perfectly–that is only really able to be perceived by the few who worked there. But the image of Silicon Valley popularly perpetuated by its local cartographer and chronicler, Silicon Maps, unconsciously provides a guide by which corporations could see how they occupied its space, literalizing the transformation of metonymy into toponymy in the clever expression of compression dreamed up by sales force reps and marketers as a catchy descriptor transferring connotations of agricultural abundance to the electronics business that has long stuck. The same marketers could surely not imagine the remaking of its local landscape that play on the horizon, or the preeminence of the region during the spatial shrinkage the internet facilitates. But the name not only stuck, but became a toponym and freeway exit, even if it lacked a center or enjoyed a clear location. Its optimistic transference of connotations of perpetual prosperity to tech resonated with the sunny evangelism of a unique marketplace: and the name stuck as investing coherence in a region of transit, across a dot-com bust-and-crash, as defining a metaphorically distinct ecosystem whose economy seems more resilient than the nation’s economy as a whole.
The swarming of Silicon Valley depicted above followed the region’s transformation into a manufacturing center, but pre-dates the wireless mesh that led it to reborn as an archipelago of the internet-linked. The commercial map united a region not bound by land-surveys or legal limits, it might remain best mapped reflexively to foreground its myth of spontaneously regenerating prosperity as the displaced orchards of yore. For time, as well as space, are difficult to quantify or measure in “Silicon Valley” which has been far more than a fixed geographical place from the start–it almost had no bounds, as a site which was not really defined by work, but by the flow of workers, coders, programmers, circuits, chips, and platforms, distinguished by a seemingly endless supply of venture capital and a rash of rising valuations by the next century. If these communities overlapped in different ways in the Valley, the collective synergy so often championed distinguished the region in ways that demanded to be visualized, but which maps fail to comprehend adequately. Desrosier’s perpetually sunny land lends actual coherence to a now not so anomalous intersection of freeways, obscuring the contradictions of a clustering of big tech corporations by situating them in a smoke-free bucolic setting. The maps sorts out not only the big players, but orients one’s experience of the region obscured by the confusion of driving across the region on the crowded 880, 237 or 101 which has few prominent landmarks–save Great America or Fry’s Electronics–along a maze, glimpsing billboards, logos, or now, the enclosed communities of those who have indeed arrived.
Michael Desrosiers, Silicon Maps (1991)
The burgeoning logos that crowd the surface of the pro-commerce map does some serious cognitive work by effectively reifying Silicon Valley as a place, branding it as something considerably more for insiders and outsiders alike: a microcosm of the world of hi tech that constituted itself as something of a new frontier and a new space of work, tied to the idealism of the nineteen-seventies but closely tied to a new world of global finance, but one completely removed from the familiar office space or indeed patterns of work: it is the vision of the new industry that defined the Valley–a vision of the multiplication of individual makers of chip-related industries, soon expanded by the arrival of global electronics firms, and in fact led it to win its very own patent office “to speed up the patent process and help American businesses grow, innovate, create jobs and compete globally” in 2012 to confirm its status as a “number one destination for innovation capital.”
Who was the new patent office really for? We have extensive data and metrics about economic performance and entertain theories for the growth of a trading zone between coders, and capital. But mapping the mental construct of Silicon Valley–charting the proliferation of energy in the maps by which the Valley viewed itself as a place–remains a challenging to unpack, so distant is it from the environment or ecology of Silicon Valley on the ground. This is partly due to the difficulties of defining Silicon Valley as a place with apparent bounds, the difficulty of pinning down the very centrality of a site through which have moved circuits, code, products and venture capital, and which now stands as a center of platforms to a World Wide Web, instead of manufacturing, and to take stock of its resilience as a site of investment over time. For Silicon Valley seems a center that we can’t map so easily as a site of work, one that has long been a notable spike of the global economy, where the swarming of workers and the place it has assumed in our collective mental imagination as leading to the future stand at odds with broader environmental change across its growing expanse.
Judge’s satirical account of the emergence in the eighties of a view of the Valley is perhaps a history of the moment it became unreal. The HBO comedy has certainly gained huge popularity as a narrative of the historical moment when the Valley appeared on the map as a unique space. “Silicon Valley” depicts the interaction of entrepreneurs, programmers and coders on which feel we somehow have a purchase, inviting us to be a fly on the wall overhearing interactions in an “absurd time in history where people who are 24 are suddenly worth $10 billion in a year and a half.” Although Silicon Valley’s continued vitality as a site of startups may be currently questioned, as the mobility of tech has grown worldwide, “Silicon Valley” retains a distinctly privileged place and position in our mental imaginary as a conceptual space–both as a destination and a network of innovation aimed to be recreated elsewhere–the challenges in mapping Silicon Valley with fixed bounds, a center, or indeed as a space provide a healthy way to excavate the contradictions and constellation of meanings that Silicon Valley has aquired. For in our mapping of the economic success of Silicon Valley in our imaginations, we have, in a large sense, papered over and homogenized the huge differences of wages, ethnicity, and lifestyle in the porous region. For, if not the Wild West, it has sustained itself on a frontier-space, bridging spaces more than defining them.
5. Although the birth of this network was to some extent presided over by Stanford University, with funding from the US Department of Defense, the swarming of Silicon Valley began with Stanford luring tech projects with leases on local lands, both for military and civilian ends, the swarming of the Valley has redefined its heterotypic space. For despite the focus of public scrutiny on corporate actors at the cutting edge of the next big thing–from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, with help from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency–as much as its economy was shaped by corporate growth, Silicon Valley was remade as a site of technology that erased its own past, and whose composition is hard to read. The myth of the verdant landscape stuck as a topos of rebirth, but also a bizarre combination of nature and culture that pointed the way forward, concealing the fractures that lay beneath the glistening sheen of the pro-corporate maps that Desrosiers continued to produce, and the difficulty of knowing what, exactly, the politics or the character of this corporate space was in American culture. If the internet was supposed to be universally accessible, and independent of location, the corporate space of Silicon Valley that had benefitted from available funding for research and start-ups, and benefitted from a mobility and collective migration of talent among its corporations and the greater acceptability of hackers among its milieux–as well as the relative remove of the Valley from larger market forces. If continued speculation has been directed to locating the next center of tech on a world map, the relation between local and global crucially allowed money, capital, and workers to flow through Silicon Valley as a conduit, and indeed the constitution of a rich market for programming and engineering on the ground.
The region’s origins at the center of web-based computing might be traced as an intellectual genealogy of hypertext in the Stanford Research Institute and adoption of Vannevar Bush’s image of a systematic ordering of information by associations–links–rather than ranking or indexing, navigated by a keyboard, as one lineage of the region, the swarming of Silicon Valley demands to be spatially and conceptually mapped, to excavate its symbolic status as a location, reborn most recently as the site for a historical drama on HBO–much as its increasing alignment of the programmer with a male culture of self-sufficiency that naturalized its own male identity–and intense dueling of programmers’, coders’, and entrepreneurs’ free-market ethos–despite the quite complex social composition revealed in the demographer Dustin Cable’s “Racial Dot Map” of the region’s relative social segregation. The segregation perhaps tends to disappear as the population shifts on freeways, but exists in the image Wired celebrated as “the best map of America’s racial segregation,” where Asian-Americans are noted by red dots, Latinos by orange dots, whites by blue dots and blacks by green: the map of 308 million dots, each signifying an individual, reveals clear “ethnic” enclaves.
A great part of the Silicon Valley’s continued symbolic unity lay it is status as s a center for entrepreneurial activity–and intense investment local corporations–create a unique landscape, not able to be reduced to the political, not easily able to be easily imitated in other regions, however inevitable is the attempt to imitate and emulate. Lest branding seem the sole function of the maps that bound the region’s apparent shapelessness, it os important to note the difficulty with which regions inherit its sheen–for as “Silicon Valley” is reified and its branding imitated briefly if spectacularly produced Silicon Alley in Manhattan, Silicon Hills outside Austin, Silicon Allée in Berlin, Silicon Docks in Dublin, “Silicon Roundabout” in London, Silicon North in Ottawa, or, back in the US, Silicon Prairie or the Silicon Valleys of the South–as if each is competing for a symbolic marker having arrived at a similar model of economic investment, the distance at which each lies from a similar concentration of start-ups or investors is evident in metrics devised by Jorge Guzman and Scott Stern weight regions to measure the quality of entrepreneurial activity from 2001-2011.
For this hyperactive space of reinvestment has increasingly directed to a global economy in ways whose dynamics are hard to recapture–and that leads visitors to many of these regions from California to wonder at the different lifestyles, less free-flowing rivers of money and conspicuous expenditures they find overseas, where start-ups just don’t live in the same way. These differences are not treated in this post, which has ballooned enough, but seeks to move between branding, economic charts, and data visualizations to better map the space and region Silicon Valley not only as an economy, but as a space. The changing space of the Valley, in other words, seems central to an understanding of its expansion not as a work space, but a space whose ethos or social space of actors has encouraged so much finance to still flow. The flow of inordinate capital to these new spaces have much to do with the rise of homelessness in San Jose and across Silicon Valley, to be discussed later, given the near-impossibility of sustaining a residence in a space that is increasingly valuable as a place for hanging one’s shingle and displaying one’s business card on a map.
6. Despite the recent arrival of “Silicon Valley” on California maps, the mapping and remapping of the Valley’s corporate clusters made sense of its intersecting multiple economies, to make the illusion of the Valley present to viewers as a place, during the 1990s. The comfortable jostling between competing corporate entities, many of whom exchanged ideas, products, or employees, was shown as a single surface of production–albeit one that seemed pollution and industry-free, in ways seems a careful smoothing over its curious heterotopia–even as the former Valley of Heart’s Desire began to disappear. If all maps share encomiastic functions to some degree, these images chart the emergence of an extended archipelago of the internet-linked, not bound by lines determined by land-surveys or maps, to show the triumphal promise of its economy. The map showcases a myth of self-generated corporate prosperity, at the same time as the increasing corporate swarming of the region by consumer-driven commercial consumer firms in the Valley that incrasingly changed its material map of employment and work from a purveyor of chips.
“Silicon Valley,” Michael Desrosiers (1990)
The verdant bucolic space of the sort portrayed in maps of Michael Desrosiers from 1989, suggest its openness as a continued site for speculation even as they concealed the pronounced lack of transparency in remaking of its landscape. The image of abundance is naturalized in the map: there is hardly room that seems to remain in this “map” of space crisscrossed by freeways; the profusion of fabled corporate logos of brands as Atari, IBM, Memorex, Olivetti, InfoWorld, NEC, KLA, Intel, beside Fry’s Electronics and a young Apple dot the greenery of the South Bay. Desrosiers’ Silicon Valley would only spread north to San Francisco over a decade later, in 2001: until then, a secluded verdant paradise holds a proliferation of brands are nested in a landscape with which they have little traffic in an improbable pastoral metaphor, beside grey highways on which snake cars, buses, and perhaps a municipal garbage truck that both sanitizes and barely conceals the levels of waste the region has long created. The imagined space of Silicon Valley, however, has always trumped the real concrete sprawl, and the maps of Silicon Maps–previously “City Maps”–provided the mirror to the corporations that they have pretty continuously wanted to see, and merit some examination as such.
The “map” of the Valley whose new name Desrosiers popularized on the business calendar was a mirror of Silicon Valley. It inscribed the name of each company he located on his pictorial map who would pay–adding satellites and a zeppelin in 1991–and reflects the changing cast of characters it invested with apparent harmony, which cast the region’s abundance as its own brand through the conflation of a proliferation of business cards that the region generates with the land’s natural fertility. An early prototype of this commercial map, which invited local companies to place themselves on this new space by attaching their business card within its map both exploited and famously advertised the fertility of Silicon Valley.
Silicon Maps, 1991
To be sure, the 1991 landscape was about branding as much as mapping, but demands some symbolic analysis. Desrosiers revealed he Valley as an improvised congeries of spaces–a hyperbolic heterotopia–where the density of manufacturing industry had replaced existing models of work and generation of wealth had magically become clean. Crammed side by side one another in a green expanse that somehow remains park-like and inviting–and worth ballooning above–workspaces bloomed in ways tied, implicitly, to a global economy, but was depicted as an alternate workspace that echoed a classical bucolic scene, and plastered over its competitiveness or martial metaphors by presenting this workspace as something of a “playspace” where competition was far more intense–and mortal–than the board-game like scenario of cheery colors would portend.
The pastoral expanse of Silicon Valley can be scanned as a region of fertile abundance from the first very map Desrosiers made–which displayed a corporate cornucopia as an always green, sun-drenched landscape, in what might be the precursor to the current perpetually green landscapes in Google Maps. The cartographical rhetoric of abundance is about product placement, as much as the determination of geographic location, but the promise to orient viewers to the Valley by an imagined prospective view of the South Bay which almost seems its own island paradise, above which sail two smiling white balloonists, welcomes one to something of a self-declared topic corporate mecca by showing the most prominent big players circa 1990 to tell each they had arrived–and offered a bright invitation to find a place in its terrain. Of course, the map was indeed more board-game than actual terrain: it invites people to Silicon Valley’s new image of settling space more than orient them to its corporate plenty. How can the congregation and spawning of so many software and electronics industry–yet to be called “information”–be understood than by swarming, as the Valley seems something like a feeding ground and center of spin offs whose own genealogy is difficult to track?
The expansion of its space isn’t irrational, but has created a tight-knit community both expansive and insular in its parts: it is something like both a utopic space that conceals its status as a “non-place,” to borrow the term of the anthropologist Marc Augé, who identifies such in-between spaces–spaces for moving between and betwixt, whose liminal nature conveys a sense of placeless rather than the stability of tradition, that are evident in airports, highways, or the space we enter before a computer terminal, that breaks down distinctions between workspace and playspace, and between such givens as private and public space: it is a space through which things travel through, and seems apt to discuss the swarming of Silicon Valley. The mechanics of such swarming, a figure that this post will pursue on several fronts, is less due to immigrant laborers, but to map some of the reasons where the figure of swarming proceeds–both in terms of the swarming of the landscape with corporate entities whose growth depends on chips’ availability, the swarming of capital that congregates in the region, obliterating the landscape once there, to the swarming of commuters who have longed stream to the region from cheaper residential areas on its margins, a swarming so prominent a factor of the multi-lane highways that in the most pedestrian sense link Silicon Valley to the world to have become a defining element of its current landscape. While swarming was not Desrosiers intention, it seems an apt paradox to see the seat of this new information industry as best mapped by a sort of herd behavior whose design is not clearly rational. If its roots seem to lie in the plummeting of the prices of circuitry and semi-conductors, the now-mythical “separate culture” that bloomed in Silicon Valley from Intel to Apple to Google, the post-1960s culture, replacing that of Fairchild Semi-Conductors, rested on a link between “computer” with “personal” that arose in the early 1980s, and quickly encouraged the near evangelism of an affective tie between man and machine.
National Geographic (1982)
For these maps embody and manufacture the seamless unity of the divided region of Silicon Valley as if it were a coherent place, by doing the sort of job maps were long employed to do. While they vaunt the micro-community that Silicon Valley as a center of manufacturing and programming that made it one of the sole sunny spots in the United States, were they also conscious of the erasure they perform of its earlier sense of place as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, content to map the desire for increasingly powerful circuitry and “user-friendly” personal computers?
Were such early mappers of the profusion of corporate spaces across the Santa Clara Valley tacitly conscious of the displacement of the once-fertile agrarian community formerly known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” whose bucolic orchards of peaches, plums, and cherries were replaced by a scattering of electronics firms based in semiconductors and silicon chips? Was the definition of a new microcosm of fertility a name that concealed an undeniable if implicit recognition of the erasure of what once was, and a process of forgetting by what it had been replaced?
Nicolas Poussin, “Et in Arcadia Ego” (1637-8)/Musée du Louvre
Et in Arcadio Ego? The studious absorption of reading the location of Tech companies across the Valley finds its counterpart, perhaps, in the bucolic space where stand Arcadian shepherds, bent over the sepulchral monument that they find in their midst, perhaps like programmers trying to read code, script and algorithms of the past, or venture capitalists trying to find the Next Big Thing. The shepherds’ engagement leads them to realize the civilization that once was there, and the fated disappearance of their paradise. They are not in the Desrosiers’ maps. But the swarming of Silicon Valley seems almost premised on the erasure and displacement of what once was there: if we live in a space habituated to the writing over of landscapes, Silicon Valley was one of the first, where we’ll be long reading the traces of its past occupation.
Few signs of the past of the Valley are present in the commercial maps of Silicon Valley. When Desrosiers cleverly mapped the region of just four years later as an expanding region, it had expanded considerably, but the map was hardly realistic: the Bay Bridge looms, as greenery recedes into a somewhat misty rainbow-hued ground, Intel appears beside a growing Apple campus, and new firms like Siliconix, Hyundai, Semivac, Informix and CompUSA dot what seems a board game more than terrain, beckoning one to enter the landscape of gambling on the vision of the future it proposed. The instability of such a tie-dyed terrain speaks to the post-1970s origins of the coders, geeks, and engineers. If the map also acknowledges a mellow past of Silicon Valley, the peopling of the landscape presents it as a sort of fold into which a tight community of insiders is nested–no streets are labeled, or toponymy noted, save corporations who could buy a spot in the new landscape featured in the calendar, which all but obliterates the one-time fertility of the land, replacing it with a landscape of business cards so often carried by those who navigated its highways.
Silicon Maps (1994)
The map’s fecundity imitates the spinning off of corporations by former workers who attract new backers that characterized the Valley’s actual economic growth from Los Gatos to Concord and Mill Valley. Ss companies have continued to be spun out from companies–if Fairchild Semiconductors’ former employees generated at least a hundred; who knows how many were spawned by others–corporations replace place-names, as the landscape conflated with the continued circulation of business cards, as the spinning off of companies obscure geography, and corporate cleavages led to a swarming of a region beyond all expectations of its earlier inhabitants, but in ways that reflect the optimism for universal free-market competition.
Silicon Maps (2013)
How, ask promoters of this popular piece of office decoration, do I get copies of the map/calendar or put my company on the map? The deep desire to “put oneself on the map” of the region reflects the corporate swarming of Silicon Valley–driven by the arrival of workers, capital, and intellectual properties to the region in ways that fed an anxiety of how to visualize how one’s company had arrived in a landscape where swarming was early on naturalized in a landscape of apparent abundance. Facilitated by networking, the ongoing image of a landscape of innovation and investment perpetuate a mythos of perpetual renewal as if a natural environment or ecology, blending nature with culture, as if reasons could be found for its emergent structures in a landscape of innovative renewal, even as it had begun to disappear conclusively as a place.
The openness of Silicon Valley’s environment is often attributed to its much-vaunted open informal organizational style, informal communities that generate innovative thought, or networks among entrepreneurs able to detect and sniff out the valuations of new platforms and opportunities for economic growth. But these over-rehearsed explanations of the region’s abundance tend to naturalizing of a landscape of continued fertility in ways that create a “place” or space in a metaphorical sense, as if to fabricate a notional creation even as its coherence is in fact concealed and never so clearly perceivable for its inhabitants–save perhaps as an obliteration of its perpetually receding agricultural past.
National Geographic (1986)
So unaesthetic is its design that it is doubtful that Silicon Valley will ever find its own Trevor Paglen.
Rather than developing as a planned or gated community, Silicon Valley developed as a sort of language game that emerged around player–and grew as a space of gaming, both of placing bets on corporations, and investing money in startups, which on its own had no fixed bounds and no limits or center, but lay in the overlap of multiple communities of coders, programmers, and manufacturing workers that exploited the availability of electronic circuitry and silicon chips. The Valley seems a classic heterotopia of the confusion of spaces of investment, coding, and corporate campuses, whose focus is directed to the flow of information on computer screens: its metaphorical mapping embodies what emerged as an archipelago of the internet-linked, not bound by lines determined by land-surveys or maps, but best mapped reflexively to foreground its myth of self-generated corporate prosperity. Such promotional serially produced sequence of annual vanity maps, designed as individualized posters and desk calendars, record the record job growth by “biz listings” in ways that don’t pause to conceal the ever-present engines of is formation.
But they foreground the difficult-to-pinpoint rationale for it’s enduring economic prosperity. All maps mediate an individual perspective and the spatial distribution of a world-view, but such pro-commerce pictorial map of Silicon Valley relishes the worldliness of the insider’s perspective. The iconography of the pictorial map of the Valley inscribes and recapitulates a myth of the genius loci, since so often recycled in depicting a salubrious locus amoenus for generating unending venture capital, without offering space to interrogate the unique rationale for its corporate clustering in a bucolic setting, or to recognize its cascading effects on the region. But the map foregrounds the difficult-to-pinpoint rationale for its enduring economic prosperity. For the ever-absent contours or centers of Silicon Valley are problematic to map or imagine as a fixed terrain, rather than as a vast archipelago of corporate settings whose members drink from a common, secret source, or concealed groundwater aquifers and rivers that have replaced the old.
The mapping of the region expresses the difficulties in coming to terms with the historical emergence of the region as such a prominent center of capital, as much as the data that might be measured of its exponential economic productivity and growth, which somehow masked its tacit connection to a globalized economy. Rather than being closely tied to a city, Silicon Valley has emerged outside of crowded spaces, where it could attract labor to the region–or draw from nearby cities from San Francisco to San Jose to Santa Cruz–without ever being a city itself. And even though there were early plans to use public transit to link San Jose to Oakland in the early part of the century, the lack of a center and disaggregation of Silicon Valley was always part of its appeal, if not its attraction, as a region that could attract folks from around the country, and was capacious in its ability to absorb–if in recent years also sent folks to the new “Silicon Valleys” in the US.
Yet despite hopes to create public transit lines since the start of the century, the spread out nature of the Valley have never been built–even if it has very long been projected. While this presses the nature of our public transit, is it really that hard to serve Silicon Valley directly–a project that has been in the works, it seems, long before tech settled the area?
The motion through Silicon Valley’s workspaces–site of the international traffic of products, capital, investment, and workers–resists conventional mapping of its workplace, environment, or investment.
The coherence of the Valley can be less defined in the political terms that the rest of the country might recognize, the opposition between different political parties, less clearly defines its relationship to the nation than its relation to tech. Santa Clara County–a relatively wealthy county by median income, in which the majority is non-white–is difficult to define as a political environment. The region has tended to vote increasingly Democratic in recent elections, no doubt increasing ties of Democratic presidents to the region, despite a deep-seated passion of Silicon Valley for free markets, verging on the neo-Liberal, but corporations like Apple and Google became overwhelmingly supportive of Democratic candidates in the late 1980s in ways that reflected their deepest faith in IT as a progressive (if not liberating) force in the world that aligned it with ideals of equality, if one tracks the region from the early 1980s:
7. Alternative Icons of the Global Market for Chips
All maps effectively challenge the limits of encoding information in order to attract visual attention to themselves. It was in recognition of the new potential of silicon chips to organize information that researchers at the Photonics Research Group in Ghent (Belgium) created a self-reflexive mapping of the globalization of hi-tech in 2oo9, revealing the survival of an artisanal heritage in an age of big data. The Ghent group etched the familiar Robinson projection of the world’s surface at an unprecedented scale of 1 trillion:1 on an optical silicon chip of forty micrometers nods to American ingenuity even if it trumpeted tech. (Did micrometer calipers help gauge this extent of scale reduction?)
As much as charting space, the chip-map announces global victory of its medium, by illustrating the integration of optical circuits by light modulation, using 200 mm processing to illustrate a million-fold multiplication of components crammed onto one chip on four layers, as a “micromap” of global scale of web-interconnectivity.
The symbolic world map would never be read, and is less about denoting spatial relations than the level of data compression photonics can facilitate. But the image necessarily might preface the problems of mapping Silicon Valley in how it appropriates a chip–an icon of the Valley’s manufacturing fame–as a surface to map a global distribution, if one perhaps legible only in the world of electron microscopy. The production of such “electronic mini-marvels” by low-salaried immigrant workers–often, unbelievably, not working in laboratories or corporate quarters, but in something like a putting-out industry during the early 1980s, when immigrant workers were taught vocational English to assemble chips or circuit boards at home–provided a forgotten basis for jump-starting an industry in one quite specific site.
The laminated map speaks to the global ties that Silicon Valley mythically forged in a global economy in about those very years, and even the possible mobility of corporations from Silicon Valley, USA, at a time when internet companies began to crest on the World Wide Web, and the release of Google Maps and Earth in 2005 boded a new vitality of a Valley, if no longer only a center of manufacturing, as the site of net-based startups whose interfaces would continue to change how we see the world. As we have multiple metrics and a near infinity of data to map Silicon Valley, the place it occupies in our mind may be as good a way to map its place in our economy as the data that we have about its performance, productivity, or capital it attracts.
Yet the globalization of the web–and web-platforms–remained rooted in large part to Silicon Valley’s ill-defined structures, as it became the sight of, if not vision, a somewhat evangelical trust in the liberating nature not only of coding and programming, but of creating new social platforms–from credit to finance to medicine to social-networking–that came to define one aspect of globalization in a non-industrial style.
8. Data-maps and Possible Metrics
How can the emergence Silicon Valley be best mapped, charted, or expressed? The ‘engraving’ of global connectivity on a chip celebrate the global reach nano photonics would allow for linking the world, in disciplines from biotech to security to manufacturing to laser lithography. It celebrates not the medium of the map or the mapped subject, but the very practices of layers of lamination and processing for encoding information as in a map.
Despite the elegance of using the surface of the chip as an actual map, any mapping the region that launched the web’s networks seems far more fraught, if only because its contours continually expand. The absorption of the world onto the surface of the chip may erase the oddity of Silicon Valley’s unique position as a site of computing technologies and tech investment. The intricate laminating four layers in the micromap may be less difficult than mapping the overlapping areas that exist simultaneously in the Valley, and the view that appears best, and perhaps only, to insiders of Silicon Valley’s space. If all maps share deeply encomiastic properties, boasting the limitless possibilities of interconnectednesss, it is not difficult to map how Silicon Valley continues to hold particular primacy within that field.
Conventional tools of map making or metrics of growth are harder to use to track the contours of the Valley. Even as the end of manufacturing that had boomed in the 1980s meant that suppliers of semiconductors had ceased to be concentrated in the Valley by 2008, and were produced world-wide from Bangalore to Tokyo to Canberra, a map of coeval time charts the persistent centrality Silicon Valley surprisingly continued to retain in a metaphorical landscape of the global economy of knowledge-production: indeed, the Valley’s status a prominent spike in the knowledge economy, pointedly questioning Tom Friedman’s image of a flattened earth. For by 2007, Silicon Valley had remained a privileged preeminence as a spike of tech workers, patents, and investment; if it was surpassed in patents by Tokyo and Beijing, it stands out as a center of attracting global capital in a remarkably spiked economy of IT and communications technologies:
The persistent concentration of such prominent peaks in the global landscape of “knowledge-production” in Silicon Valley seems partly metaphorical, but is based on the shifting landscape of perpetual abundance in the reborn Valley of Dreams. Such an image of unending innovation of course conceals the degradation of both the region of the Santa Clara Valley and environs, and masks the disappearance of the valley that was once there, as well as the extraction of funds from region. The prominence Silicon Valley enjoyed as a peak in global networks of knowledge-production–both in patents and IT employment but, most notably, venture capital–stand out in this map of the inequalities of a “spiked” world, where the United States seemed to hold an undeniable advantage, despite a burgeoning number of patents in Tokyo and Shanghai, and Silicon Valley a prime place, despite the rise of IT from Boston to Austin in the US, and its rise in Ottawa, Berlin or Ireland or Bangalore.
Can these spikes be explained by economists who have sought to map the circulation of currency that was increasingly funneled into Silicon Valley industries, or its level of ingenuity, in order to define the continued centrality that the Valley occupied? While these measures are to an extent circular, they provide a basis to suggested how densely spaces in the Valley overlapped. To be sure, the density of the Valley as a site of investment alone was remapped by the scale on which start-ups and venture capital were drawn to a single region by the economist Richard Florida, drawing on data from the National Capital Venture Alliance, that as of 2011 focussed an inordinate amount of money on one place:
Zara Matheson, from data of USA Today and National Capital Venture Alliance
But this may use data to boast of the billions of dollars invested, with little fine grain or sense of how things are on the ground in the heterotopic conditions that distinguish the former Valley of Heart’s Delight. To piggy back on the visualizations of CityLab again, the striking density of the jump in patent applications around San Jose, even in the post-crisis year 2011, reveals the considerable resilience of the Valley, even as ground was ceded to Boston and New York. The sustaining of a unique market of speculation for knowledge and innovation–despite competition from folks both in Portland, the East Coast, Chicago, as well as Texas:
Richard Florida, with Deborah Strumsky
If the weighted nature of the bubble map to the locus of Silicon Valley remains indeed striking–especially for a non-metro area–the density of patents in the Valley before that crisis synoptically map the peculiarity of the Valley’s restless energy as a unique motor for the region that attracted such sustained investment:
But does it present an adequate image of the costs–or discrepancies–in the money that flows through its midst, or the corrosive values that it may pose to the local landscape and communities? What do we truly want to foreground in its maps? The map that so distinguishes Silicon Valley as the site of patent applications seem to have been filed by folks emulating Steve Jobs’ historical 458 design or tech patents–an astounding number, even if a third were awarded only posthumously. The huge concentration of patent applications–of which the Apple family was a large share–offer one index of the Valley’s fertility. It seems only rivaled by corporate centers of innovation in Rochester, NY, home of the Mayo Clinic and IBM campus, and surpass New York, Boston, New Haven or Ann Arbor. And the number of applications for patents the region generated streams down the counties of the Valley gives a sense of its intensity that lay the groundwork for its corporate presence. Measuring patents per sq kilometer reveal a striking density, reflected in the over-amplified costs of local real estate:
Atlantic/City Lab/Zara Matheson, Martin Prosperity Institute
Another emblem of Silicon Valley as aspiring to a perennial site of innovation might reflect the huge cult around innovation tied to industries in the Valley–one aspect of which is revealed in the almost entrancing visualization of the patents linked to Steve Jobs across different sectors of tech and design. The image of an expanding, apparently boundless range of patents across that proliferate across different sectors of local industry are all tied to Jobs–who in appears below as a light blue node, mid-central, from which spins out thin blue lines to diverse sectors of technology and design–but seem to expand outward, as if without bounds or clear center, but boundless energy, in an apparently endlessly self-generating web-like form, without clearly planned growth. For it in some way reflects the spread and growth of Silicon Valley itself, and of the range of new products and devices with which Silicon Valley had become increasingly defined.
André Vermeij: Visualization of patents associated with Steve Jobs, shown as a blue node above center
But the set of maps raise cautious questions of how data can actually measure the productivity of Silicon Valley. Although such collections of economic data can, to be sure, help to envision the continued prominence of the region as a center that attracted investment through markets for circuits, chips, algorithms, platforms, or congeries of online services, they don’t map the reasons for its survival with any clarity, and only affirm its importance as a focus of national, if not global, attention, and don’t describe the peculiarity of its status as a ‘place’ or geographic region. They surely pose questions of how to visualize the data that provide metrics of its growth, but only by considering the profound “placelessness” of Silicon Valley–and its prominence as a center of transit, but also as a between-space through which workers, commuters, money and big finance moves, can we map the very sorts of swarming that have defined it for almost fifty years–and have continued to work against any attempt to level the playing field. The multiple contradictions in the place-name of Silicon Valley, as a place between nature and culture, between global and local, and between workplace and commercial space, seem as good a place as any to start.
9. Real Data! Silicon Valley’s Social Ecology
The map showing the multiple corporations that ring the South Bay with which this post began surely conceals the local losses that the reinvention of the Valley endured. What continued to distinguish Silicon Valley as a center of innovation, and what sort of maps would make sense of its disproportionate advantages in a global marketplace, and a sort of emblem of globalization, which was ready to discard its dominance in the semiconductor to cultivate new platforms of prosperity farmed and nourished by Google? While seeming to draw on a reservoir of coders and start-ups that lie within close proximity, allowing it to extract technologies, money, and platforms from a strikingly dense space, more competitive than many other places in the US. For if toponymy was long intended as metonymy in Silicon Valley, the innovation clustered around the Valley tells but half the story–and erases the obliteration of a long-disappeared Valley of Heart’s Desire. While we are dazzled by the glittery array of patents that proceeded from the Valley’s economic growth, the costs of being on the edge of the future may be about to come home to roost.
Despite the vaunted fertility of the region, its riches were of course never by any means ever accessible to all. The region of Silicon Valley has the most accentuated disparities in wealth in the country, with some 20% of its inhabitants living in poverty and a strikingly expansion of poverty across the regions, in something of a microcosm of the coming global economy in which 1% of the global population own over half of the world’s wealth. The demographic divisions of Silicon Valley run sharply against the message of inclusiveness that is diffused as if a meme by most all Silicon Valley firms: the suburbanization of poverty across the Bay Area, as in America, pushes poorer residents to outlying suburbs and include Silicon Valley and the South Bay–making it among the most pronounced regions of the divergent wealth in the nation, from East Palo Alto to Morgan Hill. For if it is a center of a booming tech economy, the San Jose-Santa Clara region is the seventh largest concentration of homeless in the United States–including major metropolitan regions–leading many without homes in Silicon Valley to be concentrated in a 68 acre encampment in a sunken subdivision along Coyote Creek, a shantytown of tree-houses, lean-tos and jerry-rigged tents whose residents were recently evicted from encampment that was close to some of the largest players in Silicon Valley and United States. Many of its inhabitants were chronically homeless, some pressed out by a soaring housing market driven sky-high by the swarming of tech workers–inability to pay rent is the major cause of homelessness, as well as homeless techies: for the swarming of Silicon Valley has itself produced its underside in the Jungle, the negative space to the corporate abundance Desrosiers has continued to map yearly, an unconcealed encampment by the route 280, and a counterpart to its sanitized spaces. Most workers ar oblivious of it even as they espouse helping the world. (If what was the nation’s former largest homeless encampment was forcibly cleared over Christmas 2014, a New Jungle of homeless quickly emerged farther from downtown San Jose.)
Placelessness seems to give way to homelessness: the Jungle’s growth from the Recession, right along the 280, had lead many to wonder weather apps could create communities, and how a center of wealth-creation includes unlikely poor. The greater density homelessness in this small region speaks to the deep sense of being broken in a region where real estate prices grew so improbably high so suddenly, stripping many of stability in a market that was hard to comprehend. For in the same region of corporate abundance, one in ten depend on a food bank, and the costs of corporate bankruptcy and costs of living may have created a new Grapes of Wrath–even as Tech CEO’s seem among the nation’s leading philanthropists. Silicon Valley’s tech firms enjoy extreme sources of investment; products of unrivaled popularity boosted average salaries of $76,593 in 2011, compared with a national figure of $50,502, according to the American Community Survey. And yet, also according to the Survey, 13.9 percent of the 40 million residents of San Jose went without health insurance–and the region offered one of the lowest residual values for average wages in the state. Few rewards of the Valley’s dominant industry reach many of its residents, whose corporate campuses are clustered in close proximity. One aspect of the coherence of Silicon Valley is that few fortunate to partake from its prosperity–overwhelmingly both white and male.
Polis, Changing Percentage of Families in Poverty, 1990-2010
Deep divisions in the formerly landscape of Silicon Valley tellingly emerge when the region is rampaged by racial self-identification, the strikingly segregated community that appears, concentrations of self-reported “whites” in the American Community Survey noted in by red dots, apart from “Asians” who noted by green dots, and “other” by noted by yellow dots and a few African Americans by the few blue dots:
Dustin Cable–detail of Racial Dot Map
Despite the near-talismanic quality of Silicon Valley in our national imagination and economy, the region is become a microcosm of our inequality–sixty-plus billionaires inhabited one of the most radically socially unequal places in the United States to live. For even while trumpeting egalitarianism and open-ness, tech firms in Silicon Valley remain the epitome of a closed society, whose quite conservative hiring practices, despite an embrace of a rhetoric of transparency and progress, and a deep belief in rationality–obliterates an open playing field. Most tech workers draw from quite demographically similar cohorts (streaming from Stanford, UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon to San Jose State), and Silicon Valley tech firms attract far fewer fewer minorities than are represented in American college graduates. The overwhelmingly male ethos of programming and coding, and increasingly male-identified nature of corporate ideologies of rugged individualism and empowerment, Vikram Chandra and others have argued, had become attached to programming and business in Silicon Valley. The distinction between manufacture and coding–and the intellectual genius of programming–had early defined deep splits in how merit and credit was awarded in Silicon Valley’s industry, and indeed who the major “players” were.
For the disguised workplaces in Silicon Valley electronics firms long concealed the huge appropriation of unseen migrant labor who filled jobs often most closely involving carcinogenic chemicals and metals. David N. Pellow argued migrant workers who undergirded the electronics and computing industries in the same Valley once used for farming fruit remained less able or likely to unionize than the migrant fruit workers of earlier generations, who worked canning and drying fruits of the same land; the expropriation of labor was not especially unfettered in the Santa Clara Valley, but the remarkable success of the union-free policies of the electronics industry and computing companies silenced the exposure to and production of carcinogens which have led to the huge concentration of superfund sites–what Tom Foremski calls its “sweetly toxic center.” Despite the formation of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition to protect workers as early as 1982, the perpetuation of the belief of a “clean industry” concealed the toxic work environments involving thousands of metals and chemicals used to produce chips, perpetuated by concealing the air ducts, chemical discharge, and smokestacks of the region. (Those exposed to these toxic chemicals were the “silent workers” of the valley: women, immigrants, minorities–often underreported or not included in tallies of exposure to carcinogenic risks.)
The logic of financial extraction and expropriation of capital generated a concentrated stock market of venture capital, whose ties to a global market which oddly skewed the internet economy and sites of hi-tech startups founded since 2002: if expanded to include San Francisco, the expanding Valley numbers a prolific two-hundred-and-ten, and leads particularly in those companies funded by venture capital (568), few of whose wealth was widely shared.
Such visualizations echoed the spiked world map offer some evidence of a northward shift of the center of gravity from Silicon Valley in recent years, and what Richard Florida calls a broader urban shift in whatever “model” of high-tech start ups exists. But it ignores the transformations and expansions which have reshaped Silicon Valley itself, as if in the need to trumpet a pronouncedly whiggish story of the world-wide spread of markets of innovation as if driven by an invisible hand, and indeed the transfiguration that the Valley has undergone as a site of commerce and work, transforming the Valley from a fixed site of work to one of the global circulation of capital in surprising ways. Can one rather speak of the swarming of the Valley as an appropriate metaphor for economic development? Or how can this corporate swarming be explained? The animalistic connotations of the metaphor as a collective behavior of aggregation which lacks any central coordination, driven by its own intelligence which serves to model a complex system whose self-organization cannot be perceived from any fixed or single perspective, or locally rooted model of rational intelligence, may indeed provide one basis to conceiving of mapping Silicon Valley, rather than seeking grounds for its own rationality or searching for reasons for the coordination of its emergence.
10. The Corporate Colonies in the Valley
While the causes of Silicon Valley’s pronounced peak in the metaphorical map above may be unclear, persistent vaunting of the “new economy” has created a focus of global capital across several generations that have wrought a rewriting of its workplace. They suggest the huge investment in local property–and site-specific location of industrial giants in the region of Silicon Valley–whose campuses create the ultimate reification of a new site for work and the rewriting of the region as a workplace–and the increased residential remove of its economy from many of its residents.
The metaphorical remapping of an unequal tech landscape in a globalized economy seems tied to successfully sustaining of the metaphor of the Valley’s fertile setting of entrepreneurship and innovation, even as the continuation of its metaphorically fertile terrain, this post suggests, concealed the degradation of the real local landscape of the South Bay: even in asserting the vitality of the Valley as a privileged site of innovation, and a mecca of entrepreneurship, an expanding market for platforms of fixed obsolescence and unknown opportunities masked the degradation of its former fertility. If cultivating markets for platforms of e-commerce and social media were fed by the global expansion of the invisible empire of the internet, the sustained metaphorical mapping of a landscape of plenty, and innovation and progress, masked the dissonance between the region’s corporate configuration and the disappearance of its landscape. Santa Clara University, seeking to attract students to the land of 6,600 science and tech start-ups, echoes the disappearance of place in the region by prominently situating its own campus amidst a corporate landscape as if it has displaced the toponyms of a lived terrain, to orient prospective students to what it optimistically calls a “mindset” more than an actual space:
Is this region perhaps better understood by the category of the geographer and anthropologist Marc Augé has used to describe a ‘non-place’, defined more by the experience of transience–even as Silicon Valley is defined as a place of work and, not only of work, but of innovation and tech? The meta-geographical concept of a heterotopia not able to be embodied on a map, ranging from the points of transit such as airports or freeway rest-stops and hotels to the absent spaces we occupy before a monitor or TV, are defined by a space of partial subjective perception that seems apt in particular ways in the valley, and especially applicable to a lamination of distinct points of orientation–one can sense at least three above, from the contours of shorelines and oceans to the cities to the corporate topology, as well as the tacit omitted map of freeways that physically connect them on commuter lines. Absent for all practical purposes, the “Valley” seems present to the extent of the partial awareness of space that exist for its inhabitants–a similar awareness is produced by the reader of the above, where a landscape of the brands of innovation consumed has replaced an actual topography, as routes of transit through the space replace an embodied entity, and global industrial entities displace the orienting cues of toponymy, now demoted to a distinctly lighter shade of font.
If Silicon Valley is the unseemly aggregate of such clusters of corporate quasi-toponyms, or the critical mass of a corporate collective it creates in an era of late capitalism, more than a place, or a mappable space–something contained in ways akin to a theme-park or game-board more than a space physically occupied or to which one can be oriented. Newly-built corporate ‘campuses’, increasingly segregated and built apart from local communities, make manifest the complex relation to place that most corporate entities increasingly feel. One heart of the region, the Googleplex, defines itself both as a central part of the Valley, yet not of it, and as a bounded island in an archipelago of imagined places each discretely situated within the Valley as individual sites, but as collectively constituting one region–or imagined work place, with its own clear borders. Each, indeed, modeled after the classic case of space moved through–the “campus”–has been argued to be an attempt to create something like its very own city–the physical evidence of its corporate independence–even as these conceptual campuses are so often attempted to be grouped as a region; even as they exist as micro-cities that dot the rim of the South Bay, as if they were enclosed biospheres of their own, the secrecy that attends to each site of production at Google, Facebook, Electronic Arts, and Apple conceals their relation to–and dependence on–one another, instead investing each its own image of insularity and high-stakes secrecy.
These theoretically independent architectural “places” in the peninsula convey the sense of impregnable self-sufficiency, as if to mask the very nature of the inter-related economy that defines the region, and to situate each in its own field of green. But their discreteness belies the fact that they are situated on a network of freeways, and that they are spaces to move through, as much as real residences. They are almost miniature Valleys of the Heart’s Delight, echoing the earlier name of the Santa Clara Valley, each networked within a broader cultural space, aspiring to be a place. The non-place that is known collectively Silicon Valley was of course the focus and launching pad for a globalized economy of late capitalism, in which the production of competing platforms and forms of intellectual property have replaced the production of goods. This seems no coincidence, and specific to the unique heterotopic space in which the majority seem to be working from behind computer screens.
For this reason, perhaps, despite the seeming possibility of the mobility of the moniker Silicon Valley, despite some success in recreating similar or analogous sites of corporate investment and entrepreneurial backing, a similar density of clubiness among investors does not actually exist. Even if the notion of “another Silicon Valley” has led the term geographically circulate with symbolic currency, and be playfully truncated to christen hopeful destinations or centers of innovation and venture capital–Silicon Alley, even as it appears prominently emblazoned as a destination on freeways from Milpitas to San Jose, briefly if spectacularly led to Silicon Alley in Manhattan, or Silicon Hills outside Austin, as sites of tech start-ups, or Silicon Allée in Berlin, or Silicon Docks in Dublin, “Silicon Roundabout” in London, Silicon North in Ottawa, or, back in the United States, “Silicon Prairie,” alternately located in Des Moines (Iowa), Texas (Fort Worth) or Oklahoma City, or the Silicon Valleys of the South–even as the name is imitated, as if it were a mantra or a spell, each compete for a symbolic marker of prosperity.
But can any acquire the aura of an innovation hub that can symbolically naturalize itself as a comparable wellspring of innovation? Perhaps they are hindered in doing so, because of the unique nature of Silicon Valley as a “non-place”: even as maps provide important ways of narrating the status of a Valley, its definition makes most sense to inhabitants than it can be described by traditional cartographical tools. And so it seems apt that as the Valley survives as a center of investment, it makes sense for Mike Judge’s television comedy to look back and illuminate the insider’s story of what was there at the start as a way to map its emergence as an island in our radically uneven sociocultural landscape. For if Silicon Valley’s contours or location seem to defy mapping, but the fixity of a privileged place exists as one that seems able to be invested with objectivity or fixity, when viewed at the scale of a national map, and its very privileged position in our national economy suddenly emerges in ways that demand to be explained:
For while the Arpanet seemed to promise a landscape of packet-switched computer networks, but the focus and locus of the world-wide system of internet protocols oddly seems to have been most successfully reaped in a precise location, even if we now imagine it as a World Wide Web without parameters and not able, as a constellation of information, to be geographically constrained or for that matter geometrically bound.
The quite grossly skewed nature of the geographic distribution, crudely mapped to be sure, suggests the existence of almost gravitational forces that attracted those corporations that the internet enabled to one small region, boosted by the presence of communities of coders in outlying areas, governmental agencies and research centers, and a unique nourishment from private universities that have actively encouraged its expansion in multiple ways, and perhaps created a climate of financial possibilities that have helped set it apart from the nation. Despite the global reach of the internet, the population of coders and local reinvestment in platforms has meant the location of the largest billion-dollar internet-based IPO’s from Zynga to Google to Facebook–as well in biotech and medical instruments, according to the Small Business Administration–affirms the geographic centrality Silicon Valley holds of a network at first appearing to transcend geographic specificity: as well as straddling municipalities, the somewhat inexplicable concentration of capital in a cluster of corporate campuses which seems to hold themselves to standards apart from government is defined by an community rich with start-ups and coders, continuing to attract IPO’s in the face of other potential sites which boast still lower taxes–or sales taxes–from Costa Rica or Rosarito to Seattle, Dublin, or Switzerland, as the privileged site for generating phenomenal wealth and profits.
Even as these alternate “valleys” proliferate, however, including across the necklace of Silicon Valleys of the southern United States, situated amidst zones of pronounced poverty. Silicon Valley, in expanded form, still retains global centrality as the hub of tech–or the competition for the title of Silicon Valley North in Canada between the former unchallenged holder of the title, Ottawa, with Calgary, Vancouver, and Waterloo, only the latter was in fact awarded a “five bar” rank of signal strength, as if that was a predictor of who would inherit the moniker in northern climes. Despite such apparent competition, Silicon Valley continues to hold a clearly dominant gravitational pull–not only because of its new status as a pool of startups who can advertise to larger corporations, but as a community into which one can break. Many corporations located in the Valley–perhaps unsurprisingly–have, to be sure, regularly sheltered their huge profits overseas, both resisting or avoid federal prosecution for not paying their share of local or federal taxes, encouraging them to remain based in the US due to a beneficial tax code, even in the face of attractively low tax-rates elsewhere–and even leading them to expect similar tax-breaks in other countries. While the special relation of tech to tax code demands much research, the economic incentives of remaining located in the Valley seems based between a symbolic capital and capital gains, lowering their tax rates by stockpiling 1.7 trillion of earnings overseas is something of a scam that permits tech to draw increased symbolic capital to the Bay Area’s shores. (Given not-so-recent revelations of the scope of NSA hunger for dragnet surveillance of web browsers and cell phones for data collection, and the use of web browsers for individual geolocation, is it indeed too sinister to imagine a shady backroom quid pro quo between platforms or software providers, as Jacob Applebaum argued, from Yahoo! to Sun to Microsoft to Dell to Apple, to, knowingly or unknowingly, allow them back-door access to private online communication? Or is some such quid-pro-quo enabling of backdoor electronic access for spooks just too paranoid and too staggeringly illegal to even imagine?)
Without being overly apocalyptic, the very insider nature of the Valley tempts such outlandish hypotheses. With their ability to defer taxes on income deemed reinvested, the expansion of software companies and campuses has overflowed from Silicon Valley to offshore satellite campuses, driven partly by the pursuit of Larry Page’s “perfect search engine” that transparently understands the desires of its users, Silicon Valley can hardly contain its growth. Silicon Valley is rarely a site of residence, these days, so much as it has morphed into a site of work, of course, if only because its real estate is so crowded with corporate parks, and so directly fed by freeways that run from residential areas from not only Mountain View or Sunnyvale but Santa Cruz or San Francisco. It is a space of interaction between coders, venture capitalists, and startups whose specificity almost exists as a focal point of commute lines–from which most of its workers have been priced out.
11. Silicon Valley’s Survival as a Non-Place
Desrosiers’ pictorial mapping of Silicon Valley as a land of plenty is of course an illusion. It conceals the fact that its contours or centers are problematic to map as a unified terrain, and that the few invited to the apparently profitable spaces are quite select. It appears as a vast archipelago of corporate settings exists, whose members drink from a common, secret source–as if the concealed aquifers of innovation and venture capitalism had replaced the estuaries that once irrigated the South Bay, but the image of plenty is of course something of a self-perpetuated myth.
The image of a wealth of “innovation clusters” was mapped by McKinsey digital some six years ago in ways that captured its unique place in our mental map in a similarly stylish design, but one of similarly questionable meaning: the corporate buzzwords of “momentum,” “dynamic oceans,” and “innovation” seem puzzlingly abstracted from its sense of place, though we get the idea of its greater importance than other California cities to tech.
Leaving such corporate buzzwords demands some serious spatial and cognitive remapping–not least because creating a cartography of the creative community of coders and coded is particularly compelling. (What sort of “diversity”–no doubt in ventures, not in workforce–the map implied seems to lie in its use of corporate buzzwords which features “dynamic oceans” of momentum among investors, as much as productivity.)
The state of the Valley, still depicted as a land of jobs and opportunity still demand mapping at the intersection between hedonism and opportunism, between work, venture capital and tax-dodges, and at the unclear intersection of a mental, economic and corporate space, more than a “place”–a terrain and superimposed on separate municipalities, bridging once clearly drawn county lines, which has become part of our mental universe but one looks to old maps vainly to find. Even as Silicon Valley emerged as an increasingly central sector of our national economy in the United States, it has increasingly acted as its own republic–diverting over $100 billion dollars into overseas tax shelters, even as it conserves an imaginary capital and value into a specific place, tied to a global circulation of capital. The extraction of wealth in the Valley foreground the difficult-to-pinpoint rationale for its enduring economic prosperity.
As a site of employment, it most often remains only an almost imaginary destination for tech workers, as much as a community of entrepreneurs or innovators. It is the classic contemporary image of a community one wants to join, whose boundaries are often hard to map with any fixity because of their own elusiveness. In Mike Judge’s television drama, however, we are suddenly there. More an enclave, preserve or invisibly gated community than “place,” we can see the origins of the new state of Silicon Valley is an enclave to be recruited to, which deems itself external to a jurisdiction. In a sense, the Valley’s unique status is historically mapped in Judge’s historical drama, a comedy about the vicissitudes of coders, programmers, and capitalists in the social interface that occurred at start-ups of the 1980s at the fictitious corporate setting of “Hooli” (aka, Google) about data compression: the drama examines the Valley as a privileged site for designing software to now-familiar platforms of global exchange, and the high prices and potential popularity start-ups command as their stocks rise, making fun of the language of marketing and purchases of often undisclosed prices based on ever-rising valuations and semi-cannibalistic buyouts by corporations eager to boost their own values. In the historical drama of six characters in search of six-figure salaries, buyouts, data compression algorithms, elevator pitches, unfunded startups, reverse engineering and cloud platforms become narrative devices of plot development, exposing the culture of programming as a hidden social topography of Silicon Valley featuring fierce corporate competition, hiring practices, and hedonism. If Silicon Valley has rarely reflected America, we enjoy being invited to experience the story of “Hooli” that might be the most compelling “reality” TV show of all–one about which we all feel some purchase, and can at last participate, now finally having been invited to view and happily if vicariously partake, if without shares.
The very same terrain that nation was long eagerly watching–if at several removes, to be sure–in our social imaginary at the same time as we have increasingly interfaced with its products is now available on TV where the idealized vision of the Valley exists as a form we can all be vicariously involved. All this makes it particularly interesting to locate Silicon Valley’s centers or purported bounds, or to imagine the construction of the world or Silicon Valley to which we are given access on HBO: as one of the ultimate insider stories that plays for a large audience nationwide, Judge’s eponymous sitcom is perhaps the best historical map of the Valley, since it offers perspectives to viewers, offering a in-jokes and partly recognizable routines, presenting itself as the results of something like a mock-ethnography of the Valley’s recognizable ideal types–hackers, coders, by-standers and backers–from within its own social space.) In what amounts to a historical drama, we watch a world unfolding in time to which we are peripheral but which we are all, by now, implicated and with whose stock characters we are all too familiar, but compelling since they seem so far away from our present world of online-surveillance, geolocation tracking and cyberterrorism, these fresh, youthful faces present a compellingly contrasting image of charming naive in their earnest optimism of kids on the make during the 1980s. Is there also something appealing about such a boys’ club scenario imagining Silicon Valley as a fencing-ground of a nerdy frat-house for guys on the make–despite increasing awareness of incidents of sexism and harassment from investors in the tech industry?
The show is in a sense a retrospective thematization of the non-place of the Valley. The not-so-hidden story of the six characters in search of generating more than six-figure salaries is that everyone wants to be part of the Valley, or to be seen as lying at its center. If a remorphing of the American Dream, it is one to which not many are invited or allowed. (The success of an HBO documentary about gangs in Oakland and Los Angeles, “Bastards of the Party,” set in the Oakland of 1995, is a lesson in property values and the imaginary social landscapes we watch on TV.) Being a central player in Silicon Valley is itself a way of boosting one’s valuation, and acquiring the latest start-up is a central way of remapping one’s place in the Valley’s highly corporate landscape. Forty years after the term was still introduced by sales teams back when it was one of the most important manufacturing areas on earth, even in the post-Netscape landscape, littered with discarded platforms and providers, it continues to attract investors by promising platforms. Even as Windows 10 boasts to unite user-experiences across devices by”offering a familiar experiences as they switch back and forth from personal computers, to tables, smartphones and other gadgets such as gaming consoles or even holographic projectors,” as the AP put it, and movement past the event threshold of the anthropocene in which smart phones outnumber global inhabitants, a vision that led Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to address the needs of “a world in which there are going to be more devices on the planet than people,” the ever-expanding markets for the same devices continue to concentrate revenues in Silicon Valley, directing global capital to the Valley of the Heart’s Delight–and increasingly attach its devises to the notion of the consumer’s delight, by design or ingenuity.
Indeed, even if a relatively select proportion of viewers were anticipated to find the show popular–according to Echelon Analytics–the widespread success of the show suggests the interest of most Americans in its subject.
Long after it has relinquished its role as a center of chip- or transistor-manufacturing, or even as it continues to hold prominence as the sole global site or the center of software industry, Silicon Valley exists so prominently in our collective geographical imaginary as a site of both start-ups and coders, as we participate, in Judge’s serial drama, with its new platforms, ventures, and IPO’s. The new produce of “Silicon Valley” is increasingly rooted in its eventual inevitable obsolescence, as new platforms are updated and replace the old with rapid-fire succession of appropriately punctuated decimals, as if the valley itself recapitulates the MJT send-up of Geoffrey Sonnabend’s three-volume theorization of Obliscence that forgetting is “the inevitable outcome of all experience”–subtitled “Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter“–in which all the past is truly irretrievable, and memory a comforting construction to buffer ourselves from such necessary disappearance. For supersession increasingly is normative in Silicon Valley.
Despite the immaterial matter of its merchandise, the concentration of work in Silicon Valley is set apart from the country as an idealized workplace. That the Valley currently continues in its constellation, as a concentration of a center for internet-based IPO’s may actually seem something of a puzzle, despite the persistence of its prominence in our national imaginary. This might seem particularly paradoxical, given that the Arpanet was first designed by the military as the sort of mobile network they sought to construct the as able to withstand air-raids or nuclear attack, and lacking any center that could be dismantled or targeted in attack, but that provided the sort of ghost like infrastructure that could preserve the unity of the nation in the case that several major cities were obliterated–as J.C.R. Licklider proposed a “galactic network” of computers that could talk to one another as a response to the potential for the destruction of our national infrastructure in case of a (Soviet) missile or nuclear attack that got special traction at the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, and provided the impetus for projects of “packet-switching” for sending data along an invisible network from computer to computer, following its own route from place to place that defied easy mapping.
The sort of non-site-specific mobile network that the military envisioned led John Unsworth to note its chronological similarity to the synthesis of LSD consumed in the Bay Area in rendering place meaningless. The one-time counter-culture novelist Thomas Pynchon to imagine the circa 1970 computer geek Fritz to feel his mind blown at the revelation that when he ponders how, since when “gets on this ARPAnet trip, and I swear it’s like acid, a whole ‘nother strange world – time, space, all that shit,” whether “they gonna make it illegal.” Both reference Ken Kesey’s calling the prototype of the Internet–Douglas Engelbart’s oN-Line System–as “the next thing after acid” for its associative structure. Yet the site Silicon Valley, rather than offer the placelessness the Arpanet promised, has held almost gravitational pull among internet startups from 1996 to 2006, according to the Small Business Administration, in ways that would probably make it a prime target for missile attack–if we were worried about it. Although cyberpunk prophet William Gibson presciently evoked the same line of thought in Neuromancer, describing cyberspace as premised upon the “consensual hallucination” of online existence, Silicon Valley has generated both a staggering number of jobs and amount of money in one puzzlingly apparently perversely specific geographic location.
12. It makes sense to consider the odd dynamic of permanence and impermanence that defines Silicon Valley as a heterotopic space or cluster of heterotopia–defined by the transit of workers, flow of capital, and expansion of interfaces–that have radically rewritten an ecosystem or its own. The very fluidity of the streams of commute-migration might be mapped not only on the distribution by which Stamen effectively mapped the residences of workers to their workplace destinations, both to aid folks in Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo! to ferry some 7,500 tech workers from the city to work by the most effective paths and recruit tech workers to Silicon Valley by providing them with an alternative mode of collective transportation on dark-windowed WiFi busses to avoid a nasty commute. The lamination of these commute routes over the Stamen Toner base map stacks data in ways that allowed the companies of Silicon Valley to best visualize and identify with the fluidity of peninsular destinations of commute, in ways that effectively depict the heterotopic spaces in which the Tech workers of the Valley moved:
Eric Rodenbeck/Stamen Design
The swarming of Silicon Valley itself transformed a space that once enjoyed clear boundaries into a new sort of space for investment as well as workspace, almost paradoxically, erases what was there and exists as it grows without any actual center or sense of fixity, even as its place-name is co-opted all over the world map. If the name is often reproduced or coopted, the lost or absent nature of the Valley–or the ambivalence contained in that ever-popular playful oxymoron “Silicon Valley”–seems as good a place as any to start to consider its current creation, by reaching back in time before the 1980s life shown on Judge’s show, to recuperate the metaphorical vitality that the term first coined in the early 1970s sought to capture.
To discuss the displacement of the Santa Clara Valley offers a sort of conceptual base-map to begin to describe the story of corporate growth in an actual terrain. For even if the current corporate-campus-laden valley denies either its polluting or increasingly polluted nature, mapping the rise of its congested campuses might begin by taking stock of the surrounding sunlit counties were fed by rivers and agriculturally rich–even if few of the farmers’ markets in the Valley now feature the local produce once grown right outside San Jose along Coyote Creek or the San Joaquin River. The notion that space and community are only created in the same site now among the shoppers at farm-fresh markets, a destination valued as a “walkable space” uniquely able to “create a sense of place in Silicon Valley,” suggests a deep vein of romanticism for the current disappearance of the Valley that once was–filled with local garlic, strawberries, eggs, and chard–even if it paradoxically means growing acres of lettuce in large warehouses under pink and purple LED’s, among other innovations in “Smart” agriculture–as if to compensate for the metamorphosis that the Valley has itself undergone. Yet despite a clear fascination with green tech, and a boom in the commitment to clean-tech investment and “enviro-investing” in 2012, from Solyndra to Kleiner-Perkins, the joy expressed at the market’s oscillation away from “trendy eco-projects that failed” and to a commitment to addressing “market needs” celebrated by the Wall Street Journal as a return to its sensible role of enriching the world.
The oscillation between two deities in the Valley of Heart’s Delight–between nature and money, between green environmentalism and technology–is evident in the vanishing nature of the one-time Valley itself, whose topography is now erased, for all practical purposes, by the concentration on freeways on which one moves, and the almost universal historical amnesia with which one proceeds along its freeways to work.
While the water is no longer nearly so clean and the same region is marked not only by superfund sites left by the toxic chemicals of semiconductor industries, the region’s rich groundwater aquifers are replaced by the “Purple Pipelines” of waste-water re-use, providing recycled water to the region once filled with cherry orchards from East Palo Alto to south of San Jose.
For the oxymoronic transformation of the Valley of Heart’s Delight into a “paradise for engineers” was based on far more than an apt slogan of marketing or metaphor for corporate synergy or change: its fecundity as a site for IPOs has both replaced and erased its former wealth of apricots and prunes. Silicon Valley reflects the transmogrifying reality of industrial parks spread over real estate lots in a matrix of freeways, without fixed center, boundaries, or terrain and spread across multiple municipalities, and is a quintessential heterotopia of intersecting worlds and spaces, lying on the edge of mapped space, and actualized only on cyberspace rather than in space. Oddly, Silicon Valley is also defined by its replacement of the once-bucolic landscape that was there–and more a distributed network than a collection of defined lots, or the boundaries of property drawn by classical Roman agrimensores, as well as being unbounded quintessentially defines a site whose its inhabitants lack many of the fruits of their community–even as those new fruits are trumpeted as the most productive of the world–that is both obstinately opaque to outsiders beneath a smog-filled haze and demanding a greater transparency.
“Silicon Valley” is almost an ironic toponym of the tongue-in-cheek, a metonym orienting one to a mythic space that sharply contrasts to the clarity of late nineteenth-century maps of Santa Clara County–a landscape predating even what Steve Jobs quite evangelistically ironically termed “B.C.”–before computers.
San Jose Public Library
The current clustering of a network of corporate campuses around San Jose, a new Stanford and encroaching San Francisco Bay invites mapping its hidden network of trust, corporate proximity, and investment upon the metaphorical perpetuation of a lost land of orchards that an image of apparent cleanliness and idyllic expanse. For a half-century no longer an expanse of orchards, no longer divided by clear municipalities, the expansive sprawl has served as an incubator than a launching pad of Microsoft, Google, “Silicon Valley” is truly more of a metonym than toponym. Burgeoning sprawl, having displaced the orchards, has endured as a site where the production of microchips fostered a mental space in a network of venture capitalism, patent applications, and IPO’s. The transformation of the site from blossoming orchards to a site that, as an “edge city” for journalist and geographer Joel Garreau, more fully exist as places for its inhabitants they share clear boundaries or municipal identities, exist as an interlocking framework of industrial parks, almost like a theme park than a stationary location.
Yet Silicon Valley, as much as being only an “edge city,” is a concept that resists being mapped for a variety of reasons that are built into its very construction as a landscape of almost infinite ingenuity and invention: if it were bounded, this would be to constrain the proliferation of the provides of platforms and unbounded nature of the internet itself. Indeed, the contours of this Valley are not open or subject to public observation, perhaps because they define a site of experimentation and neigh fifty years of advance, and the mindset perpetuated at the site of work behind closed doors of corporations indeed suggest the secretive nature of what actually happens in the Valley as a reason for its fertility: if we were to actually map it, we might be able to understand what occurs there, and the mystique of its centrality would wear thin. Indeed, the corporate landscape of the Valley as it has developed seems filled by a seemingly healthy competition between entrepreneurs, coders, and franchised trademarks who compete not only for being identified with quality, but seem to fence for connotations of its one-time fecundity or abundance in the 1880s–back when the South Bay was indeed nourished by rich networks of estuaries, rather than venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.
Perhaps the planned obsolescence of many of the electronic products and software platforms that most of us cycle through, forever obtaining new updates, creates a cycle of forgetting what the Valley once was, that both makes the early maps of Desrosiers look so very quaint in deed, and the maps of the earlier appearance of Santa Clara valley as if they had receded into the past with a velocity that surpassed much of the traditional landscapes of the nation, as if memories of what it once held recede such rapidity to erase any sense of their pasts. If the folks at the Museum of Jurassic Technology posit forgetting as “the inevitable outcome of all experience,” the past truly seems especially irretrievable, and its passage irreversible, in the supersession of the blossoms and poppies of the former Field of Dreams. For although many investors have recast themselves as stewards of clean technologies, and Silicon Valley is a decisive global center of clean tech, from wastewater to manufacturing, the conceit that memory of the distant past remains the greatest illusion of all in Sonnabend’s concept “obliscence” seems especially to hold for the landscapes of Silicon Valley: and their past to have receded furthest from the maps that we makes of the same region to day to the extent that it takes a huge force of remembering to imagine what its past landscape consisted of apricots, plums, cherries, poppies and flowering trees.
San Jose Public Library (c. 1872)
Settlement of Silicon Valley (from Alum Rock, 2004)–Wikipedia
The repeopling of Silicon Valley transformed is small community of rich ranchos in the region that bordered San Francisco Bay, nourished by streams and open estuaries, to obsolescence. Their clear lines of property ownership were dissolved by the corporate heterotopia of proliferating poured concrete buildings that have replaced, and been superimposed across, the land in ways that opened its fruit-growing trees to colonization and suburban sprawl.
Calisphere/San Jose Historical Society
Rather than receding into the past in the manner of other regions across America, the region of Silicon Valley has strikingly changed from a regularly mapped set of Ranchos as the Rancho del Refugio/Pastoria de las Borregas to a landscape that, definitively, can’t be clearly mapped because its corporate population is ever-growing and ever-fertile. “High energy people blossom in this industry,” boasted a manager at Intel as he relaxed in his indoor hot tub in 1982, perhaps unconsciously appropriating an agricultural metaphor to describe the ethos of an industrial environment.
Can it be mapped? The very illusions of objectivity, control, and fixity are least apt to imagine across Silicon Valley, where one can best map fixity in terms of motion, transit, and expansion, and might better map without imagining fixed boundaries or centers, but view cohesiveness by valuation, salaries, or broadband access, the disappearance of greenspace, the commute-space, or even, and, perhaps most definitively, the production of toxic waste. But if the microchip first promised to redefine the region as a site where one could declare the “future was here,” the growth of broadband and wifi across the region–then the current iteration and reminder that the region had arrived, the definition and preeminence of Silicon Valley as at the cutting edge, several steps ahead of the country, has managed to be maintained in ways that redefine the Valley beyond and as much more than a space or place.
14. Webspace: the Wireless Mesh and the Local Geography of Start-Ups in Silicon Valley
Despite the striking elasticity of the Valley as a work environment–its satellites have migrated to the East Bay, Marin, or Half Moon Bay, and the region may seem to be overtaken by San Francisco or China–the continued gravitational pull of this non-place without a clearly mappable center have persisted over forty years through at least four generations of entrepreneurs, from the manufacturers of silicon-chip microprocessors to the first software companies to the behemoths of globalization. Rather than designate a specific place, the phenomenon of the proliferation of corporate campuses supported by capital investment recast the Valley as a quite surprisingly placed network of collaborators and capitalists that staked out the purported revolutionary nature of the enterprises they advanced.
The powerful myth of Silicon Valley seems closely linked to the capital it attracts as Appland, as much as the federal grants to Stanford University of the past. But the symbolic prominence Silicon Valley has assumed a site for arrival in the future–a vision that is remarketed on HBO show attempts to narrate our unique relation to place–has demanded a constant remapping of the Valley as the site of future growth to maintain a place on the map that was impossible to find before the late 1980s. The relatively small pond of coders who congregated between Mountain View, Milpitas and Palo Alto created a community that reshaped the fertile valley that, in the late twentieth century, eventually overshadowed the prominence of investment in transistors or semiconductors, or even the landscape that Netscape helped fashion after its initial foundation in 1995. In this sense, Silicon Valley never existed as one place so much as it has become a search for the promise of integrating the open spaces of the internet that first appeared as real–or were first seen–by folks who worked in the Valley’s industries, or in the meet-ups that preceded the first IPO’s. One of the clearest definitions of Silicon Valley as a region emerged with the attempt to define it as an early WiFi space. In ways that definitively showcased its transformation from a center of manufacturing, linking the valley by wireless placed it in the future by imagining a network of communication that seemed open to all. If the plastic bounds of the Valley as a place have nonetheless lead its boundaries to be redrawn almost an infinity of times over forty years, as folks have tried to identify the aura and energy of the Valley on a map, in attempts to describe what the Valley might be, or what would be needed to unmoor it from its setting.
And even if its bounds have been reconfigured and spread along regional highways to encompass San Francisco and the East Bay and reach south to Half Moon Bay, the network has particular symbolic staying power even after over forty years. A new state in this elasticity began from 2006, in a sense, when what had long been a workplace site for semiconductors and became the largest open regional wireless broadband network to offer internet access across nearly 1,500 square miles, creating an extra-urban collective showcasing Cisco’s umbrella wireless mesh network as its infrastructure–the Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, privately built and operated by IBM, Cisco, Azulstar and SeaKay, created a prototype and illustration of a linkage and site-specific technology upgrade to which the world could aspire–as well as, if then unwittingly, a model of surveillance. (Is it too much, in an era of the recent revelation of the mass-surveillance of internet communications, to imagine some sort of early realization of the broad opportunities for the back-door interception of signals that a single broadband network could provide?) The self-described epicenter of innovation united the largest regional wifi of its time both as its own advertisement, and in a manner that no other collective had previously done–and which still provides an unreachable ideal for most nation-states, that effectively remapped its own inter-relationships, by 2008 imagined to comprehend thirty-seven cities in what seems a new means to map both economic territoriality and insularity:
The coherence within the same area of wireless access still stands in sharp contrast to the uneven access to Broadband available nationwide by 2011, according to the National Broadband Map, although much of the rest of the United States seems to have caught up to the Bay Area:
The spread of a fiber-optic networks across the Bay Area have hugely facilitated the growth of the Valley outside the topographic contours of the past, allowing it to realize new hubs in a more mobile–yet still strikingly concentrated–manner across the Bay in ways that expand the more limited mesh network of 2006, and allow rewriting a ground plan for future corporate expansion on fiber pipelines across county and municipal lines:
The effects of creating cohesiveness across Silicon Valley’s penumbra have been rapid. It is striking is that by 2013, software developers were both better-paid and more sought after in and around San Jose, where a premium seems to be placed on specific skills and programming languages that are more sought after than elsewhere in the country–defining a unique labor market in itself for software developers in a surprisingly dense geographic location–garnering them salaries of over 130,000, some $4,000 over the national average.
The above visualization of recent salaries of software developers attests as well as anything to the continued prominence of the Valley in the national economy. But “Silicon Valley” emerged as a numinous a network of start-ups from the 1970s, and the term gained wide currency out of digerati in the 1980s–shortly before I moved to California, when the campuses of Xerox and IBM dominated the scene with Microsoft, and Google was yet to be born out of the dream of a universal digital library out of the World Wide Web. The density of software developers’ salaries came to define the Valley as a place, but it was always linked to the topic idea of defying geographic specificity, as is often observed, and a truly utopic place, linked to industry, but unmoored from a geographic setting to present itself as a state of synergy; if Silicon Valley was closely tied to Stanford University, the very placelessness of the Valley has both led it to be imagined to be replicated (in New York, Berlin, Boston Ireland, etc.), and to be a network, or space, rather than being geographically defined, despite its resemblance to a toponym, and the continued status that it has enjoyed as an enduring epicenter of venture capital and patent applications. Of 141 global internet corporations valued above $1 billion, whose global reach suggest the apparent limited relevance of geography to the the internet start-ups–a preponderance continue to be located in a restricted area on the peninsula or near the Valley.
Map by Samykolon; Wikimedia; National Geographic/natgeoed.org
The surprisingly local concentration of founding software companies in sectors from gaming, security, commerce, social networking, or gaming of billion-dollar valuation was mapped by Atomico, using markers of place to designate blossoming of billion-dollar valuations by dots of differently colors that suggest the site’s continued fertility for different portfolios, casting the region as a site that proliferates portals to online platforms. If Silicon Valley is not bounded, its evanescent contours match the basis of many in the perpetual obsolescence in an economy of platforms needing to be nourished by continued updating, even if many make the majority of revenues from tried-and-true tactics such as advertisement, taking cuts, and client services:
A comprehensive “Geography of Start-Ups” might be rendered as follows to pose questions about the geography of programming taken that go beyond the pithy statement that “something is in the air” or “location matters” to decipher some of the reasons why physical proximity was facilitated by wiring and by offering both advice and stealing possible future employees from one another in a relatively small but well-fed pool: corporations are cluster in the map designed at the Economist in regions, erasing all specific toponymy in a landscape of giants of the net economy:
The rage of start-ups remap the region of Silicon Valley as a new insider culture. The illusion that Silicon Valley is a center of a specific cluster of open web-based industry conceals the fact that the economies of many are based in traditional forms of revenues, though linked to user experiences on interactive platforms. Indeed, the prominence of “user experience” as a category of specialization–and indeed, of work–captures the truly heterotopic nature of Silicon Valley. The proliferation of a number of diverse internet platforms that seem to have bloomed spontaneously in a landscaped marked by an identical coastal configuration in the above visualization of the international investment firm Atomico, an efflorescence of pastel dots suggest the diversity of services rather than designate their location, almost renders place irrelevant: each platform provides services for sectors from finance, social media, e-commerce, gaming, enterprise apps, enterprise data, travel, transport, security and much more. Although the uniqueness of the region has been identified as lying in its “flexible spaces of interaction” on an (sub)urban periphery, it seems to have become its own center for the swarming of capital that cannot be reduced to lifestyle alone, but a density of entrepreneurial investment that was so clustered in the Santa Clara Valley.
That such multiple global platforms originate in the same place reveals something of an inner contradiction demanding to be explained, beyond blandly essentializing it as a landscape of innovation–if only since it is remarkable that this network remains so very rooted in space, and closely located to capital as well as government initiatives that could serve as a possible business model. The persistence of this sense of geographic rootedness may derive from the early establishment of a “trading zone” within a market between entrepreneurial investors and software engineers, that nourished modes of net-based interaction have both developed and been cultivated in ways that are more accepted and recognized than other parts of the world. The global expansion of Silicon Valley has, if nothing else, added a further wrinkle to the displacement of the Valley as a privileged center of software industries. Indeed, recent maps of the Valley seem to try to imagine and fix the global economy in its growing space, as if to explicitly picture the Valley as a microcosm of a globalized economy.
The link of a geographic site to such multiple web-based platforms in one geographic area may seem something of a surprise, if only because of its staying power. Despite the apparent competition from overseas or elsewhere, the proliferation of so concentrated a cluster of software-related corporations valued over $1 billion specific to one geographic region of the United States not only creates a real economic inequality, difficult to explain within the forces of globalization the software industry itself promotes, but confirms the image and expectations of “Silicon Valley” as a place; the influx of capital into a surprisingly non-urban area has promoted investigation of its defining characteristics as allowing a mobility of work, whose holding power almost seems to attract its own inflow of intellectual capital, as well as start-up funds. Of 137 companies world wide, the highest number of billion dollar startups came to be concentrated in San Francisco or San Jose, providing the household words of a global economy.
The proliferation across the peninsula of a network of industry reveals the resilience of a geography over forty plus years, from transistors to micro-processors to software worlds, tied perhaps to a local culture of its fertility–not agricultural, but metaphorical and man-made. Although never able to be clearly bounded on a map, despite attempts to locate its center or expansion in wall calendars or corporate clubs, and the deep demand to orient oneself to its changing topography. (If, as the journalist Alexis Madrigal, recently relocated to report on the Valley for Fusion, has observed, “Silicon Valley has been marketing speak from the jump” its robust sense of placelessness seems to speak volumes to the flexibility with which it more approximates mental spaces than it encompasses territory, defining the shifting parameters for a market for specific sorts of expertise as well as inflated salaries.) The boundaries of the Valley are mapped in vain, at the same time as we struggle to arrive at a reason for the specific clusterings of companies as if it was indeed a place that had the status of the cities, suburbs, regions or counties at which we arrive with help from a highway map; we map and remap to orient ourselves to the incredible economic expansion there, and the implied fecundity of the name “Valley” sticks, since it captures the difficulty of defining the “place” or bounding what seems a conceptual space, but seems so hard to concretely represent, and perhaps exists more as a region the enjoys some privileged relation to an influx of capital than anywhere else on the map. (There is something quixotic in the fact that this region introduced a whole new meaning for “search,” as well as, “history” compels us to search for it on a map with such limited success.)
We want to find it, since we want to go there, or partake of it however vicariously, even if we are related to watch T. J. Miller solicit coders on HBO.
That Silicon Valley is so problematically mapped and consistently re-mapped forty-four years into the game reflects the particular holding power of this construct as a destination as a center of the semiconductor industry and an image of a center of innovation. The construction of Silicon Valley as a destination exercised attraction due to the difficulty with which it can be made present for viewers in geographical terms–or indeed pinned down to a region, or a fixed center. The superimposition of a yellow-line over a printed map nicely expresses the enduring sense of Silicon Valley as a network of freeways–now a network of commute, along the central vein of the 280 and bound by the 280, 880, and 680, and fed by US 101.
The mobile commute routes that have long distinguished the peninsula suggest the nature of the Valley as a space through which passes through immense numbers of cars, workers, capital, and parts–as well as one that launches platforms, software programs, and IPO’s. (Needless to say, these networks of transit were not in place to ensure the diffusion of dried fruits: they have grown to service what has become the most economically profitable region in the United States.) The malleability of these boundaries are perhaps best illustrated by the expansion of its boundaries shifted from a region that radiated from Palo Alto, contained by the Bay and Santa Cruz mountains, in 2000, to encompass not only Santa Clara county and Cupertino but Fremont, Brisbane, Scotts Valley to the south, and South San Francisco and Half Moon Bay: as the inter-related networks of the region expanded over the next ten years, the metaphorical “valley” extended far beyond the region–self-proclaimed futurologist Timothy C. Draper imagined it as encompassing land far beyond the bucolic county where it once lay, and even a fiscally separate state.
The expansion of the “Valley” to a region that even itself contained the entire Bay Area, peninsula, and coast suggest the autonomy of the region from “California,” for Draper, but also the expansion of the network to instantiation by the map, was something of a hope for its future expansion, and the ultimate statement of the difficulty of identifying its now-global reach, most evident in its high prices of renting square footage–now more densely focussed around Palo Alto, but still also considerable in San Jose–or triumphal maps of a tactile microcosm of globalization that have made it a magnet for investment and jobs. Indeed, the echoes of rising real estate costs have now driven up the market throughout much of Oakland, Berkeley, and South San Francisco, as the Valley has steadily, intrepidly progressed up to the North Bay.
To be sure, the distortions on the Valley have been widely noted as a result of the gentrification of the Valley on account of receiving such a local injection of disproportionate incomes in recent years, to make it prohibitively unaffordable to live in the directly adjoining towns in the peninsula or South Bay:
even as rentals near the Valley are wildly distorted by its presence:
The growth of Silicon Valley attested to on pictorial maps used as conspicuous objects of display and a corporate directory of the region suggest its ever-changing boundaries and constantly expanding frontiers. Indeed, while in 2012 the Valley was imagined as mostly in the South Bay,
the Valley seems to have effectively moved far further north in recent years, rather than migrated, or being “challenged” by the San Francisco and Oakland.
16. Silicon Valley’s expansion has been sustained by a corporate swarming of tech industry, whose unreal success obliterates the “Valley” as a place. The density of the proliferation of industry across the region was soon such that the crowding of corporate logos dominated the landscape in a cornucopia of corporate presence that has altered the once-bucolic landscape of the Bay Area:
What seems to remain its epicenter has been now rendered illegible toponyms, truly erasing any information by directing attention to its true sources of capital investment and new competitors for attention beside the oldest producers of electronics:
The corporate density was briefly–if unsuccessfully–taken as a target of attack of the Occupy movement:
But the pictorial map of corporate blossoming is more the cherished icon of a modern fertility cult, although it has echoes of one. Such much-recycled and enriched projections of the Valley’s corporate landscape depicts a transparently triumphal vision of corporate colonization almost seems to consciously be displacing an area once filled by orchards. The image of a naturalization of tech abundance, if long ironic, has perhaps led to a new self-knowledge of the malleability of place–despite the continued hold of the region in our nation’s economy. The multiplicity of its centers has created a challenge of orienting oneself to an extra-urban spread of corporate campuses on arterials, extra-urban or urban rim–removed from San Francisco, on the horizon, or Oakland, whose freeways seem to have themselves pushed back the receding hills of green in the below pictorial map, which magnifies the valley as a network spilling beyond its origins to the South Bay, to Scotts Valley and Cupertino but also Concord or Marin.
For “Silicon Valley,” even some forty-five years after its first naming, remains a quintessential conflation of nature and culture (and of nature and commerce, or orchards and transistors).
Since its coinage at the start of the 1970s, in a rare moment of optimism preceding the political “nervous breakdown” of 1973, suggested a marketer’s promise to sell its wares, the application of a metaphor of agricultural abundance to the center of semiconductors seems the industry misleading. If the term was diffused by Don C. Hoefler to describe the dense local proliferation of silicon computer-chip industries around Santa Clara Valley, probably first overheard the term when it was first bandied by industry sales’ forces: it gained appeal as the oxymoron that designated the first hot-bed of synergy that would hatch the golden egg, leading Hoefler to employ it as the name of his column (“Silicon Valley USA”) that concretized a set of commercial practices and industrial values in the area around Stanford Research Park, where venture capitalism exploded after 1980: “Silicon Valley” became a symbol of the Steinbeckian wealth of the new produce that outshone the Central Valley, as what had been the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” ceased being only a landscape, but carried the new hopes for California in ways that conjured a new Gold Rush, even before microprocessors were made, and a suburb entered the internet before the rest of the world, and arcade games constituted real work, and the World Wide Web a form of ecstatic liberation and a space of collaboration that mapped loosely onto the region’s geography, but which has now become the territory of the net’s globalization–if one that was never that diverse, and where more “lip-service” was paid to diversity than institutional changes, in the words of the CEO of the Palo Alto-based non-profit that promotes the remediation of the gender imbalances in tech, the Anita Borg Institute.
17. The landscape is of course, anything but the verdant Santa Clara valley of the past. In fact, what the Valley was is in danger of disappearance–although the somewhat convenient creation of a protected “Green Belt” around its system of freeways, almost identical with the changing topographies of the surrounding hills, seems to guarantee only several specific redoubts of green:
These “remnants of the Valley” suggest an expulsion of most protected areas, however, far outside of the fertile Valley once linked to agrarian dreams, and now more likely to be preserves near wealthy suburbs or country estates.
One might note that the amazing concentration of capital incongruously allows the persistence, amidst such suburban sprawl, by the proliferation of the illusion of often year-round access to nearby farms–although these are few and far between in the Santa Clara Valley itself, despite the flourishing of local Farmers’ Markets there as a sort of micro-economy of the well-fed:
But even though we like to map the region by its dark and light kelly greens, is the area still so pristine as the bucolic baggage of its name suggests? The blend of marketing and optimism at the origins of its the curious coinage, now marking its 44th anniversary, caught like fire by word of mouth. After it made its debut in Electronic News of Jan 11, 1971, it introduced a destination, long after the first work on silicon device manufacturing in the region in 1958, just outside Palo Alto, to which one could arrive, and created something of a market for work in itself, and which he popularized through his. The story goes that Hoefler lit up when he first heard the term over lunch in San Francisco as it was mentioned by some marketing guys as a term bandied around in the office, and the term coined by the sales team in the semiconductor industry grew into an actual place that Hoefler happily termed “Silicon Valley, U.S.A.” for its commercial fecundity, as microprocessor manufacturers slowly started to line its roads. Since then, the moniker has readily migrated out of newsprint to highway signs . . . as if to meet the demand that we know we have truly arrived.
The region’s identification as a destination and critical mass of microprocessors grew around the transistor, and only later the silicon chip, but remained a center of innovation, cross-pollination, and an ideal for how possible future centers of technology might work to foster the somewhat “serendipitous synergies” of a supply of cutting-edge computer knowledge, design, and a culture of open-ness–although the tradition of the US government investing so extensively in R&D activities and firms in Palo Alto made it a unique setting for collaboration difficult to recreate, even among the networked set–and as difficult to attract funding.
Silicon Valley it has, of course, as a place of opportunity and progress also become a mythological place in our sense of the global imaginary–as an area bursting with IPO’s, venture capital investment, and risk-taking, nourished by a web of freeways that transported networked workers from nearby cities.
Yet the image of the bucolic nature of the “Valley” as a nourishing site for corporate growth, entrepreneurship, and the needed venture capital provided a nice manner not only to orient oneself to a growth of tech firms in the region but to illustrate one’s own place in the proliferation of firms in an area where gentile ballooning seems still the motif, and the greenery of the landscape a continued metaphor for economic flourishing and a narrative of economic opulence. Even as the Valley seems to be challenged by San Francisco, the elasticity of cartographical formats allows it to be pictured no longer as concentrated around Palo Alto and San Jose, but stretching northwards to the now-greener hills of the East Bay and Marin.
The 2014 mapping of the icons of corporations that have colonized the what was once a Valley of fruit trees between Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and San Jose suggests a critical mass of corporate intermingling and synergy south of San Francisco, depicted in ways that continue to echo the bucolic tones of its first coinage–and if long seen as an outgrowth that ramified from Stanford University, what was once a “valley” has spread across much of the Bay Area and South Bay, so that, in this pro-corporate prospective map from Silicon Maps, trademarks threaten to overwhelm toponymy– in ways that makes one wonder whose interests the map actually articulates, and what the dissonance might exist between the advance of trademarks and the all-so-green topography of the region. The swarming of tech, however, seems to know no clear bounds, and we are poised to open up Concord, Sacramento, and Marin to the expanding corporate space.
The map tells a story that is reliably upbeat and optimistic, inflated by venture capital, and captures the image of the plenty of produce emerging from fertile ground in the former Santa Clara Valley to foster all of the 87,000 companies that have settled or been fostered there; the now largely figuratively verdant terrain is a dominant metaphor that this pictorial map of the region sets forth–even if trademarks come to crowd out whatever is left of the surrounding green as one moves south to its historic constellation of Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View.
Of course, the story that the map tells to viewers conceals a valley of manufacturing now vanished or almost gone: the industrial campuses that fill the landscape were built atop the original boom towns, now eclipsed by the trademarks of globalization that litter the lawns: this past industrial landscape, before microprocessors were all made abroad, was a rich center of manufacturing jobs, we often forget, as well as agricultural jobs that coexisted cheek by jowl, all fed by the sunlight of Sunnyvale, if it is now filled by superfund sites created by the storage tanks that were built, from 1981, to store the waste of the semiconductor plants which are the best evidence of the production of the past. These buried footsteps of the toxic deposits of Superfund sites is concealed by the pollution-free concentration of industries it presents.
18. The dense tangle of industries that are the landscape of Silicon Valley, free from industrial waste, has settled a still-green expanse, which seems to prove the continuity of the metaphorical construction of an ever-fertile region, now pushing forty years. The heart of the corporate flourishing of Valley lay in the incongruous appropriation of a term for the acreage that was once dedicated to fruit trees, to be sure, along the freeways that encircles Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale, where microprocessors have replaced transistors as the currency of choice, feeding off of the circulation of employees–and its venture fund backers–the region attracts, for industries that seem embedded cheek by jowl in its fertile landscape, as if in a techno-garden glorying in joyous masking of the complex contradictions of a radically re-written landscape where workers arrive daily along paved arterials from increasingly lengthy commutes.
To be sure, the flourishing of corporate America by streams of venture capitalism in the meadows of Silicon Valley was never for all–back in 1982, the residents of Black, Hispanic, and Vietnamese who lived in East Palo Alto and worked on the assembly lines of Apple Computer and others were barely touched by its wealth, even if they were attracted by its dream.
Of course, as much as the map sustains the metaphor to imply that the blossoming of fruit is indigenous to the place, as Bloomberg Businessweek has helpfully revealed, in something of a counter-map of place based on the American Community Survey from 2008-12, the actual origins of its workers–predominantly from Mexico–that keep the chips whirring, and microprocessors on the move, and that announces it as a destination. For all the recent discussion of the predominantly caucasian tech firms based in the Valley–if some 83% of tech jobs at Google’s workforce in the Valley were held by men, 93% of those workers were white or Asian, while true that more lip service is paid to diversity than programs for change, it is striking that of the influx of residents into the region, a relatively large number of folks speak a language other than or in addition to English at home. Since 2010, a majority of the tech workforce has been Asian Americans, among whom migration to the valley has continued to grow even during economic downturns, in ways that compel mapping as a skewed sort of microcosm of globalization, as well as of the United States–a microcosm that reveals the profoundly transient nature of a region bound by highways, which seems more an icon of social and geographic mobility than a geographic place. The aggregate workforce that reveals marked actual geographical diversity densely packed peninsula–the leading companies in the tech sector are rarely diverse, and despite net migration, and the insularity Valley seems something like the reverse of a melting pot: it is a site where folks arrive on well-worn paths, and which the range of geographic birth-places cannot conceal the fact that it hires the folks it knows best.
The big draw to the valley from over 6,000 miles away speaks volume to the value that its industry places on specific expertise, and its prominence in an international marketplace who often receive work H1 visas because of their corporate desirability. And one can imagine the nearly identical pathways for their arrival:
It’s easy to compare this map to the density of corporations that the fill–whose names seem to drown out the actual place-names of the region.
Does the burgeoning of an apparent plurality of logos conceal the pretty uniform nature of its residents? The trademarks make up the valley as a place that is not even rooted in space-time, and removed from local roots, so much that one might almost miss the toponyms that indicated the old centers of manufacturing that filled the valley not long ago. Now, if conjoined to the name of the local branch of Carnegie Mellon, globalized corporations colonize the face of the local map–making it a true artifact of the global that compels one to try to imagine a time-lapse graphic of corporate settlement across the region over forty years, as Microsoft appeared, Google was born, and LinkedIn emerged, replacing Raytheon, Advanced Micro Devices, and Fairchild Semiconductors, and leaving Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Varian Associates as less prominent parts of its topography, while prominently placing the logos of global companies–LinkedIn; Microsoft; Google–in its stead as the prominent pit stops along the freeways that commuting workers move.
The costs of the swarming of innovation lies underneath the verdant landscape of the Silicon Valley superconductor industry. Even as the connotations of the region’s historical fertility metonymically survive in our collective imagination, the seeds were planted for the expansion of the region’s sites of toxic waste–and indeed the work in a number of carcinogenic metals and chemicals created one of the largest clean-up sites in California, reviewing a state-wide survey of Superfund sites.
Stanford University commissioned one early map of the many contaminated “hot spots” across the Valley, which might best define the region’s coherence by some measures, in 2004–long before it was suspected to in fact be “home to one of the nation’s heaviest concentrations of toxic-waste sites,” but around the time that local residents began to first complain of respiratory problems. Local clean-ups, already paid for in the first decade of this century by chip corporations from Intel to Applied Materials Inc. to Advanced Micro Devices, stand to define the region since its time as a center for the fabrication of transistors, and contains deposits of toxic waste from as early as 1956, even if violations for unauthorized storage of waste only emerged recently.
Small World Maps
Is this legacy another sense of defining the efflorescence of industries in the Valley–and did the established practices for under-the-radar concealment of wastes indeed provide a rationale for the explosion of microchip processing in a region where the EPA could stand to turn the other cheek? Whatever the reason, the swarming of industrial manufacture to the Valley, if erroneously linked to labor practices, has left a clear record of its material substrate in the number of Superfund sites that still swarm around the South Bay, where individual clean-up costs of up to $5 million are now regularly declared to be “bad chapters,” but might prove to be the norm. (And even when “cleaned up,” to be sure, entails a shell-game of moving it from Mountain View to be treated and burned in less-populated and far less affluent regions in Oklahoma or Arizona, often discharging toxic wastes and still more harmful chemicals on Native American reservations.
Notwithstanding the verdant foliage that crowds the landscape mapped by Silicon Maps to present a mirror of prosperity, evidence of those underground storage tanks old manufacturers left in the region, it’s well known, are not only concentrated in Santa Clara County, but regularly continue to leak and leach into the water and ground around them–the concentration of Superfund sites in Santa Clara county is far greater than any US county. Their toxic legacy signals not only a return of the repressed of the costs of hiding pollution that old manufacturing plants, long abandoned, have left along its major thoroughfares from Sunnyvale–epicenter of the “old” Silicon Valley–to San Jose, but a boondoggle of its own. For concealed far deep beneath the illusorily pristine nature of those firms that provided microprocessors–prohibited from revealing smokestacks, ducts, or waste–were left deposits in storage tanks that are destined to crack with time, as if the forgotten footprints of the powerful corporations who walked the streets. The map emerged at about the same time that Alexis Madrigal came across a collation of corporate headquarters that crowded the Valley already in 1983–“Rich’s Guide to Santa Clara County’s Silicon Valley”–which he mapped against the twenty-three Superfund sites across Silicon Valley: if the toxic plumes are now under control in the Valley, and chip-making a thing of the distant past, it remains a notable shock that manufacturing continues to provide some 20% of the region’s jobs, a concentration which stands out for regions outside of major metro regions, and seems to be growing from San Jose to Livermore and as stable as it’s been for the past decade.
Yet it is not clear how long this can last. The recent discovery of a hazardous discharge of a solvent used in making chips, trichloroethylene, or TCE, of 7.8 micrograms per cubic meter, that exceeded the 5 microgram EPA safety levels within air vents at a Google satellite campus employing a thousand workers in 2013 seems an unwanted inheritance from buildings of Intel, Raytheon, and Fairchild Semiconductor on the same area.
Promoting itself as a land of verdant fertility continues to serve to conceal the multiple sites of waste storage that are in danger of being released in the soil and groundwater that seeps into indoor industrial spaces and the grassed over lands of somewhat bucolic corporate campuses, is indeed an odd wrinkle in corporate time. Indeed, it seems necessary to have recently introduced one of the largest and most advanced state-of-the-art water purification plants in the Santa Clara Valley Regional Wastewater Facility, employing microfiltration, reverse-osmosis, and ultraviolet disinfection at a cost of $72 million, funded both by the water district and City of San Jose, as well as $8 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
As if tracks in the La Brea tar pits, the Superfund sites of Silicon Valley, mapped by Paul Misonon Stamen tiles, reveal the residue of manufacturing that was so long concealed by the appearance of box-like structures and manicured lawns, which were mandated to conceal the waste they generated–although the density of these twenty-three footprints of toxic underground pollution were long known to the EPA–as were the nineteen left by tech firms and their manufacturing, largely of site scores of thirty to thirty-five, save Advanced Micro Devices in Sunnyvale (37.93) and Fairchild Microconductors in South San Jose (44.46).
The toxic not-so-past of Silicon Valley offers a map of the former manufacturing industry that the current industrial giants do well to hide in their maps. But it comes up pretty prominently in the distribution of Superfund sites in the state, as the only continuous stretch of red, rivaling the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys in its toxicity, in a clustering that one might do well to meditate on again and hold before one’s mind while buying local real estate:
To be sure, in recent years, the local presence of pollution has shifted from underground to the air in ways increasingly evident in recent years in the air overhead in the Valley, where a spate of perpetual highway expansion has been added to accommodate commuters–without reducing traffic congestion, but only feeding haze of traffic jams, fed by the interminable commute from outlying areas where one could most readily afford rent in 2012.
Questions of how to move around this tech-induced suburban spread of rim cities has led Lyft to introduce a satellite of ride-sharing into Silicon Valley, extending its service much further south, even as it balks for now at offering rides along the commuter corridor from the Valley to San Francisco.
All of which makes important to reiterate the difficulty of mapping Silicon Valley with fixed bounds–save in a numinous way and as a true heterotopia of commuting capital and workers. For the way that capital, entrepreneurship, and innovation have swarmed to the valley in clustered corporate campuses, each defining itself by its own platforms and in buildings that stand as if apart from the world, has produced a second-swarming of commuters and commute buses, as if in a third dimension of the heterotopic expansion of Silicon Valley as a Valley of Dreams. Indeed, the difficult to detect costs of its ongoing environmental impact can now best be read by the swarming of commuters who stream into the South Bay, and across the peninsula, despite the earnest attempts of its bicycle coalition to reclaim alternate modes of commuting on El Camino Real–the only mode of transit that connects Daly City in San Francisco to San Jose that is not a highway.
While such new modes of connecting the multiple communities that exist in Silicon Valley suggest a new perpetuation of the utopic vision of the Valley as a site of innovation and growth–and indeed link the vision of innovation to the welcoming of eco-friendly transport, the hopes to introduce a new infrastructure of bike boulevards seems more successful at getting kids to ride bicycles to schools than workers to rethink their commutes. In part, this is due to the distance that commuters’ travel demands. It’s possible to map the network as a convergence of freeways that have become massively expanding commute roads to scratch beneath the surface of an encomiastic map that privileged the industrial icons of the area, but renders the pressures of commuting to sites of startups on Google Maps that describe the reality of swarming commuters take daily on eight freeway’s paved roads–the network that primarily defines Silicon Valley for most.
The Valley might well be seen in recent years, as a network of freeways engorged by traffic jams, englobing a bit of green that survives around San Francisco Bay.
The built environment created around the coursing freeways between Milpitas and Los Gatos that have pushed the forests and green lands out to the margins of the Sunol Regional Wilderness or Henry Coe State Park, which are able to be protected as they lie outside the lines of commute that serve as Silicon Valley’s true bloodlines of vital nourishment:
The displacement of much industry to San Francisco has led, to be sure, to an expansion of the WiFi buses that the giants of the Valley have offered their workers as a means to lure them to their campuses at low cost, in buses that promise to create mobile workspaces that make the commute apparently instantaneous, since they guarantee a workplace environment as soon as one steps aboard:
The need to expand new avenues of public transit, as BART, to San Jose or the Valley seem, for now, on hold.
Of course, the problems of the commute depend on time, and increasing amount of time that is consumed in inbound commute hours to the Valley among a demographic not so habituated to long commutes. This is most nicely envisioned as an increase in commute traffic just last year, according to a 2014 report by research firm Inrix, in which San Jose suddenly rose four levels to the seventh worst commute city in the nation from 2012, with drivers losing some 35 hours weekly, and Palo Alto showing the worst inbound commute and job-to-residence imbalance, aside from San Francisco, despite the construction of increased traffic lanes in recent years that were built at considerable expense to accommodate the number of commuters:
In ways that can also be read in a dynamic map of the best and worst commute times in clickable form, the map offers a new sense of the topography of traffic that has grown congested around the space, erasing its bucolic connotations, and even suggesting high commute times from residential areas of those earning six figure salaries, creating an odd sociological profile of high commute times. When one focusses in upon this landscape of commuter times, and maps either inbound commute times or those times greater than 45 minutes, the definition of the valley’s topography of traffic best emerges above San Jose, focussed in residential regions Sunnyvale and around Palo Alto:
Mapped in a closer record of minutes of inbound and outbound commutes, suggests the degree of congestion by locally ranking commutes in static form–and making the problem of finding residences in nearby regions all too evident:
The explanations of the expansion of commuting distances along a formerly suburban expanse appears partly due to the low-density housing of the same area, to be sure. But it is also true that most of such residences are quite prohibitive to relocate to, and in an era when all are consulting Redfin and Zillow maps, mapping costs of property against costs of commutes in a calculus of expenditures, school districts, and acreage, the twenty-five minute commute from Scotts Valley seems quite a good deal indeed. This makes commuting to Silicon Valley much better understood not only a choice of lifestyle but economic reality with the Bay Area-wide escalation of the valuation of potential sites of residence. As more high salaried workers are attracted to the region, the expansion of housing costs throughout the Bay Area has been rapid, and the escalation of costs of Bay Area homes no bubble.
The normalization of expanding commute-times, in line with those across the country, seems increasingly tied to the imbalance between jobs and housing costs, already apparent from 2007, the valuation of homes above $600,000 had already expanded throughout most of the formerly small towns of the Bay Area.
–an imbalance which revealed in even greater starkness in the 2014 Kwelia maps of median income across much of the greater Bay Area, and the huge spikes of real estate values in Palo Alto and Milpitas.
Is one consequence not a massively toxic release of carbon dioxide due to transport across the region that endangers its day-to-day air quality?
The metric tons of CO2 generated from commuting as far back as 2009 already created an image of dense pockets of commuting, even despite the existence of other options of public transit. Predictably, the amount of time spent in automotive transit per household overall most rapidly escalated from the Oakland Hills to the South Bay and Santa Clara County–due to lack of access to public transit, as well as greater disposable income.
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
The foregrounding of transit options in the recent New Places, New Choices report has emphasized the benefits of urban lifestyles. But with workers often pushed out by the distorted real estate prices–here mapped in terms of median incomes–one result of further commute distances is that congestion is even harder to escape. The below maps the extent to which the Valley not only devours ground-space, attracting a groundswell of workers to the Valley of Dreams, but sucks cars down to central San Jose at clogged times of commute, creating crowded freeways where commutes devour a week of peoples’ lives each year.
The concentration of the 23% rise in traffic showed pronounced congestion across the southern peninsula.
Of course, the dynamic of the commute is less tangible in the map of the San Jose’s Chamber of Commerce of the golden region spreading southwards from San Jose over what was once agricultural lands, as they’ve adopted the term that Hoefler first used in his now-historic 1971 column in Electronic News.
All too often, we’re tempted to see the disconnected dots of hubs of the global computing industry as a specific market for software engineers not only as providing a basis of the continued relevance of geography to the internet economy, but how the internet economy is revolutionizing the ground.
19. If there is any irony in mapping the residues of waste left by this concentration of corporations, this seems multiplied by mapping the probability that rising waters of global warming threaten their future leakage into the grounds of such desirable real estate. For despite the current appearance that a tech-centered gravitational pull with which it continues to draw folks to work is likely to continue to endure, the apparent inevitability of those upright pushpins may be erased by the coming rise of ocean waters over the many of the same corporate campuses that ring the bay, which, built along the South Bay, seem particularly exposed to the danger of sea-level rise, so tightly clustered are they along a shoreline of particularly low elevation. If we allow ourselves to map the threatened rise of ocean-level based on current climatological predictions we can staggeringly map many of the largest players of the “Valley”–Intuit, Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Dell, Cisco, Citrix, Motorola . . .–as lying geographically underwater in coming years.
Unless the Valley can, through the increasing integration of cross-platform technologies, make the world a better place purely through cloud-based platforms instead of a land-based workplace? What would happen if all the ample expanse of App-land, no longer protected from the rising San Francisco Bay, were to disappear? The erasure by the bay’s waters seems not only an apt elemental revenge of global warming, but a fitting end of how a non-place might disappear.