[Reader-list] BBC: Changing face of Silicon Valley
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Thu Dec 13 03:37:53 IST 2001
Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 11:09 GMT
Changing face of Silicon Valley
Christine Finn: Silicon Valley "was very bruised"
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida
The impact of the dot.com boom and bust of 2000 on the hi-tech heart
of the US, Silicon Valley, has been captured in a new book.
In Artifacts: An Archaeologist's Year In Silicon Valley, Christine
Finn of the University of Oxford, UK, provides a snapshot of this
turbulent period during which people's fortunes could change
In her book, Dr Finn combined her journalistic background with
traditional archaeological training, to try to capture the fast pace
of change in Silicon Valley's material culture.
She first arrived in January 2000, at a time of optimism and
multi-million dollar deals. By the time she left Silicon Valley in
December, the atmosphere had changed completely, with companies and
people living with the aftershocks of the dot.com crash.
"There was an emperor's new clothes thing going on," said Dr Finn.
"No one wanted to believe the whole thing could crash. But it surely
There's a healing process going on
"When I went back in April earlier this year, I wanted to hug
everyone," she said. "I got the impression it was a place that was
"What you're seeing now is a microcosm of a society that really
stretched itself to the edge and is now recovering. There's a healing
process going on."
Holding onto the past
Silicon Valley, the stretch of land running south from San Francisco,
is one of the most intensely innovative enterprise zones in the world.
Computer hardware has a fast turnover
Including places like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Stanford University and
San Jose, it has been at the forefront of the communications
By the end of her year there, Dr Finn felt there was a sense of what
was being lost and a realisation of the need to hold on to the past.
"In the last few years, there was a sense of getting rid of stuff, of
just keeping moving," she said.
"So the orchards disappear and everyone turns round and asks, where
are the orchards? You now have a heritage orchard, whereas before it
was an industry."
This has led some in the Valley to set up their own small-scale
museums, to try to keep track of the fast-changing nature of the
About 80% of the material that I recovered last year I couldn't get now
In an area where most of the time is spent thinking about the future,
Dr Finn encountered several people who have started collecting pieces
of the past so that future generations can look back and trace the
origins of the computer and follow its development.
Even during her work on the book, she found it sometimes hard to keep
up with the transient nature of Silicon Valley.
"Suddenly I realised a lot of things were disappearing in front of
me," she said.
"About 80% of the material that I recovered last year, I couldn't get
now. When I was in the Valley trying to contact people I had
interviewed in the book to let them know it was out, I was getting
e-mails bouncing back. Their e-mails didn't exist because their
company didn't exist anymore."
As an archaeologist herself, Dr Finn believes Silicon Valley could
present a challenge for the archaeologists of the future.
"They'd find a lot of confusing things," she explained. "You wouldn't
be able to say everyone drove a particular type of car or lived in a
particular type of house, which is how we tend to interpret ancient
In fact, future students of the Silicon Valley of 2000 may completely
misinterpret the piles of computer chips found in this corner of the
"An archaeologist in 500 years' time, if they didn't have any other
records to go on, would wonder what on Earth was going on.
"Perhaps they would make something into a ritual site which wasn't a
ritual site, where people go and leave things to appease the gods of
Artifacts: An Archaeologist's Year In Silicon Valley is published by MIT press
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