Silicon Valley faces an uncertain future — starting with its definition
By Owen Thomas
12 March 2018
San Francisco Chronicle
Photo courtesy of Visit California
Since the small cluster of computer chip makers was dubbed “Silicon Valley” in the 1970s, people have struggled to identify exactly what Silicon Valley is composed of and where it starts and ends.
In recent years, the term Silicon Valley has come to signify many different ideas: “a force demolishing politics and media, an entrepreneurial philosophy being replicated around the world, a hip label embraced by consumer products, even a well-loved show on cable TV. It’s home to companies collectively worth trillions; socially awkward founders worth billions; and run-down houses worth millions. All of those clash and collide in the Bay Area.”
Increasingly, the conceptual boundary of Silicon Valley has expanded to include San Francisco and Oakland. Companies such as Uber, Salesforce, and Twitter have established headquarters in San Francisco with venture capitalists also making the move to follow their dollars.
“When I first wrote about Silicon Valley, you could safely say that Silicon Valley was just Santa Clara County,” said AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information and Professor of City and Regional Planning. “Over the first 30 or 40 years, it has grown to include Fremont, the East Bay, Alameda County, certainly San Francisco in the last 10 years.”
The old Silicon Valley still remains — Google, Apple, and Intel have headquarters that still reside in the 1970s definition of Silicon Valley. That being said, Steve Wozniak, Co-founder of Apple, recently declared that Silicon Valley is synonymous with the whole Bay Area.
The name “Silicon Valley” was initially coined by Journalist Don Hoefler in 1971 as it described a region that was composed of “a group of companies, in a valley, that made their money on silicon.” However, Saxenian argues that Silicon Valley is hardly an industry, because “it’s not silicon anymore.”
In response to speculation that Silicon Valley may be in demise, there is discussion of replicating such an environment in the Midwest. Saxenian is skeptical: “I’ve spent a lot of time going around the world to Silicon Whatevers. There’s no other place that has generation after generation of people who have been involved in these industries.”
“There is the myth of Silicon Valley,” Saxenian says. “There is something that has become bigger than the physical place in people’s minds, there’s no doubt of that.”
Saxenian argues that the Silicon Valley is not a concrete space, nor does it have defined boundaries.
“It’s about a set of human beings, and a set of institutions around them, that happen to be very well adapted to the world that we live in,” says Saxenian.