Friday, April 30, 2010

Silicon valley, then and now

There is a strip of land between the 101 and the Bay, from the boundary of Moffett Field north a ways (and when I say "north", I mean "west", of course). I don't know its history intimately but, from having visited the area intermittently since the early 80s and having spent a good chunk of the 90s living nearby, it seems to have gone through three major stages:
  1. Upstart companies, riding the wave of silicon miracles, moved in and made the biggest, boldest mark they possibly could. Glass and steel buildings rose, their curves and odd angles shouting "I am not a box!" Rents and property values went through the roof, but who cared?
  2. The wave broke, leaving a glut of empty not-boxes and an economic hangover the likes of which would not be seen again for, oh, at least a few years.
  3. The Valley licked its wounds and regrouped. A new generation arose and what had we here? A bunch of pretty cool buildings available at reasonable rates. The buildings stirred back to life.
The Boom has left its indelible stamp on the Valley. Even the new construction these days could, for the most part, have gone up ten years ago and still fit right in, had only the engine not run out of steam. But now both that new construction and those buildings that had proclaimed their new-and-differentness back in the day have, to my eye at least, a comforting, almost nostalgic look. Moving in may have been a coldly economic decision, like buying so much dark fiber to light up, but there's also just that hint of the 21st-century boutique law firm setting up shop in an old Victorian house.

Think of it as recycling, putting the byproducts of the manic energy of those times to useful work. Just so, the overheated "everything's different now" vibe that pervaded the region seems to have died away, leaving room for a steady stream of commercially viable improvements and maybe even the occasional boom-era fever dream come true.

Granted it's always tricky to tell how much the times have changed and how much oneself has changed. Maybe it's really the same as it ever was; maybe it's still all different now. I really don't know. All I know is that we're all a few years older now.

And, one hopes, a bit wiser.

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