A year spent in Silicon Valley and environs, trying to understand what sorts of clues it will leave for archaeologists of the future.
No one would argue that anything in California is permanent, but British archaeologist and journalist Finn is shocked by the almost incomprehensible pace of change. Only 30 years ago, Santa Clara Valley (Silicon Valley’s real name) was known for its cherry, apricot, and pear orchards. Now all the fruit trees are gone, replaced by computer companies, malls, and apartment buildings. Finn finds a few old-timers who remember the orchards (fondly), but very few. Silicon Valley is like Manhattan: young people from all over the country come there to throw themselves at a dream of fabulous success, though few will make it. The collapse of the dot.coms has clarified this process, bankrupting many young millionaires and sending them home to Modesto. Those who do succeed build fabulous, enormous houses in which one or two people live. Future archaeologists will puzzle over these mansions’ many rooms, whose only function is decor. The mostly Hispanic servants who clean and landscape can find no affordable place to live; they pack, several families deep, into converted garages and studios. However, if you happened to own real estate in the 1960s and sold it in the ’90s, you can count on being wealthy. In one three-month period, property values rose by 40 percent. One family bought a house in Los Altos in 1997 for $7,000,000; it’s now worth $15,000,000. Even mobile homes sell for enough to retire in Arizona. Finn seems to have intended the book to be a full-scale academic study, but she delivers instead a pastiche of notes and photographs, sort of an archaeologist’s diary.
Not much here about technology, but an eye-popping survey of the northern California landscape and (perhaps) its future. (70 illustrations, mostly b&w photos)