The San Francisco peninsula located between the eastern bay and the west coast is what is meant when people talk about Silicon Valley. It was formerly known as Valley of the Hearts Delight and was popular for its almonds, plums, cherries, and apricot fruit before the phrase came to be associated with technology. Everything changed, however, and the area broke away from being a traditional agricultural land and became a sort of myth. This myth includes both the technology companies that changed the face of the world and a more abstract Silicon Valley culture. A spirit of innovation, rebellion and vigilance against centralized power. This paper will review the history of Silicon Valley and attempt to explore how today’s Silicon Valley culture has been shaped from political, economic and cultural perspectives.
Financially, venture capital helps startups get off to a fast start. Since investments have clear expectations of returns, they want to pour money into solutions that will generate significant short-term business value. The first venture capital firms entered Silicon Valley in the 1970’s. Sequoia Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers were all founded by Fairchild alumni in 1972. Among them, these venture capital firms funded companies such as Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Dropbox, and others. At the same time, some of the unspoken rules that had been in place in the traditional industry were overturned as venture capital firms focused on and only on profit and return. When Apple received its first investment, investors were more concerned about the product on their desk than Steve Jobs’ long hair. To this day, Silicon Valley maintains this unpretentious culture. Suits would not be as welcome here as they are on Wall Street. People are referred to by simple names and the company structure is more flat. All of this ensures that the product itself comes first, and that opinions and initiatives that benefit the product are noticed and discussed first. Today, there are still a large number of investment firms based in Silicon Valley, and this fast-paced, flat, respectful culture of innovation and competence will continue in this two-way mutually beneficial business relationship.
Politically, then-President Roosevelt’s focus on the West combined the westward movement with the rise of Silicon Valley, allowing Silicon Valley to inherit the myth of America’s development of the West. Silicon Valley startups present themselves as pioneers and promote a cowboy spirit of needless enterprise. At the same time, taking high risks is covered to gain approval in a heroic narrative. The Westward Movement was an important event in American history. Along with territorial expansion, American immigrants came to the West, where they started pioneering operations to make a living in the wide Western territory. At the same time, the cowboy mentality began to form. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt came to power and attached great importance to the development of the West, setting up a special agency responsible for the unified planning and management of the development of poor and backward areas. During his reign, the military industry and high-tech industries in the west rose, making the east-west economy of the United States begin to balance (“How Theodore Roosevelt Fell in Love With the American West”, 2022). After World War II, the U.S. government continued to increase the development of high-tech industries in the West, making it a leader in the electronic information industry, atomic energy technology and the space industry. This series of moves was covered in the narrative of western development, where young people were supported by the policy to move away from their hometowns to the equally young Silicon Valley. Being away from their hometowns allowed them to find opportunities here more comfortably without fear of failure. Entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley have always viewed themselves as the complete antithesis of those on the East Coast. People in the U.S. in the West considered themselves to be cowboys and explorers who were establishing a new frontier. They were very bold and thought that failure was not a source of shame but rather the quickest approach to resolve challenging issues. In the past few years, a new metaphor, Disruption, has emerged, referring to the ability of a small company to enter the fray, often with the help of technology, and completely disrupt a seemingly solid industry. So Uber disrupted the cab industry and Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry. The most important part of these stories, like the story of the cowboy, is that out of nowhere a new model, a new way of changing the established order to make the world a better place. These kinds of risk-taking themes, anti-group thinking, opportunity and risk-taking, are the same songs with different words.
Finally, Silicon Valley culture was heavily influenced by hippie culture, with an emphasis on decentralization, vigilance toward government, and a focus on community values. While the music of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Joan Baez, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead and the bell-bottom pants, tie-dye print bandana trend and the legitimate need for psychedelics always conjure up images of young rebels, the contributions of Internet connoisseurs, telephone flyers, Internet hackers and other tech nerds are easily overlooked; it is the latter that seize the opportunity of the counterculture movement to put tech at the service of the masses. In 1968, Stewart Brand founded Whole Earth, known as the hippie’s guide to life, a survival manual that provided young people with the tools and skills to use technology to revolutionize society as the short-lived hippie movement drew to a close (Daub, 2020). As a result of the Vietnam War, Watergate, and a host of other events, young people distrusted their government and held rebellious attitudes toward mainstream values, and many technicians spoke radically about the information revolution and how it would revolutionize the world by bringing computers into the home. Until then, computers were as big as refrigerators, kept in air-conditioned rooms, and it was only through operators in white coats that they could perform calculations and get results days later. At the same time, the community spirit of hippies sharing with each other gave birth to the open source concept of the Internet. The design drawings of the Apple I were distributed to everyone and its programs were made public. This openness embodied the hacker ethic of publishing useful information and writing free software. Hippie communalism and libertarian political advocacy formed the roots of the modern computer revolution and motivated a generation of young people to get their hands dirty and transform it into a tool for human liberation. Long after the decline of the hippie commune, LSD gave way to new chemotropic hallucinogens and popular music morphed from protest songs to arena rock, while the idealism of these technologies continued to confront social conformity, existing institutions and standardized document types. These technological elites found resonance in the highwayman Kerouac, who shared an abhorrence of the ideas and conventions of life imposed by formal schooling. Dropping out of school is both a return to self and an opening to the world. When you drop out of school, you are freed from a degree of control, but you retain control over the meaning of what happens to you. The re-narration and repackaging of these meanings then becomes the mythical aura in which they appear to the media and the public.
In summary, Silicon Valley culture comes from the influence of many specific events in American history. The investment model of venture capital firms has contributed to a flat, highly, effective culture of respect for innovation and competence. Support from policy has allowed Silicon Valley to flourish as one with the national myth of a westward-looking America where a love of risk-taking and boldness unafraid to fail is celebrated. Finally, the hippie spirit of the 1960s has become the precursor to the current Silicon Valley culture. Hippies looked to sharing, opposed any form of centralization, and wanted everyone to profit, which directly led to the open and convenient Internet of today.
Clarke, H. (2022). The history of Silicon Valley and the Venture Capital industry. Retrieved 20 September 2022, from https://www.harrisonclarke.com/devops-sre-recruiting-blog/the-history-of-silicon-valley-and-the-venture-capital-industry
Daub, A., 2020. What Tech Calls Thinking.
How Theodore Roosevelt Fell in Love With the American West. (2022). Retrieved 20 September 2022, from https://time.com/5706384/theodore-roosevelt-american-west/