Located in northern California, in the southern region of the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley is the world’s leading technology hub, home to many of the world’s largest high-tech companies and has become the birthplace of many of the world’s largest and fastest-growing electronics companies and new industrial sectors. The institutions and culture of Silicon Valley can be understood as an advanced, path-dependent set of management that fosters a particular mix of corporate industrial models (Lusoli & Turner, 2021). This essay will describe how the counterculture movement influenced Silicon Valley’s culture, its political ideology, the composition and functioning of its economy, and how entrepreneurship and liberalism fuelled Silicon Valley’s bro culture.
The military and industrial collaboration of the Second World War gave rise to the concept of ‘counterculture’. The counterculture movement of the 1960s imagined a world that could be built around shared technology, shared mindsets, ongoing collaboration and continuous innovation (Lusoli & Turner, 2021). This intertwined world of technological and social change helped form the basis of today’s techno-liberal culture in Silicon Valley. The formation of Silicon Valley culture relies on values inspired by the counter-mainstream culture, such as independence, self-reliance, and authenticity (Lusoli & Turner, 2021). Silicon Valley engineers may be plain looking, non-native English speakers, socially awkward and completely different from the ideal image of the ‘Silicon Valley engineer’, but they often lead the most important projects and control the best resources in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley values the quality of ideas, the willingness to solve problems creatively, and the ability to achieve breakthrough technological solutions (Delbecq & Weiss, 2000). The counterculture movement ideology simultaneously de-hierarchizes and decentralizes the enterprise and promotes the legitimization of flexibility in production and labour processes (Kenney & Von Burg, 2001). The empowerment and elite management of young technical cadres in Silicon Valley has been an important factor in its success, with most companies having flat hierarchical structures and senior managers regularly briefed by young talent. Secondly, those who create and work hard in Silicon Valley deserve to share in the wealth created, with stock options, project completion bonuses and other forms of revenue sharing being the common currency of Silicon Valley (Delbecq & Weiss, 2000). Many engineers earn several times more in stock than their annual salary, and Silicon Valley generously shares in the wealth that is created. This work culture blurred the boundaries between personal and professional spheres, subordinating both the individual and the work to the logic of production, thus creating Silicon Valley’s unique leadership position.
Silicon Valley can be conceptualised as a community consisting of two interconnected economies. Economy I includes the production of integrated circuits, software, computers and countless technology companies. Economy two is a structured network of venture capitalists, lawyers specialising in high technology, accountants and consultants designed to facilitate the creation and growth of new companies (Kenney & Von Burg, 2001) that can later be sold to larger companies or listed on the stock exchange. The entrepreneurial model in Silicon Valley has always revolved around technology companies, which are successfully nurtured by the institutions of Economy II to become members of Economy I. These companies were launched on the basis of bold innovation and were inherently more radical than incremental innovation (Audretsch, 2019). Economy I is responsible for creating technological products and selling services, and in Economy II, the products are the technology companies themselves, with companies in Economy I being the largest source of entrepreneurs in Economy II (Kenney & Von Burg, 2001). The two economies are interconnected and Economy II is dependent on Economy I. The two economies cannot be conflated or focused on one or the other, otherwise it would be difficult to understand Silicon Valley. Massive innovation has driven a thriving entrepreneurial environment and ecosystem, ultimately contributing to the economic growth and prosperity of entirely new industries such as personal computing, software and social networking.
Many of Silicon Valley’s elite entrepreneurs define themselves as go-anywhere revolutionaries rather than capitalists who want to rule the global economy. They are hippies and wind resisters, bringing the essence of the counterculture to the work culture, believing that everyone can benefit from and contribute to change (Manjoo, 2017). They are libertarians on most culture war issues like anti-abortion restrictions, pro-gay rights, pro-gun control, and anti-death penalty. Most Silicon Valley executives are Democrats, with only 3% of start-up founders identifying themselves as Republicans (Ferenstein, 2015), but they do not like the traditional Democrat view of government as a protector of capitalism on a whim; Silicon Valley liberalism sees government as an investor, funding citizens to be as healthy, equal and entrepreneurial as possible. For Silicon Valley, protection mechanisms often act as a barrier to innovation (Ferenstein, 2015). This helps explain why the tech community shuns traditional political tribalism such as unions, sovereignty, militarism or small government advocates (Schradie, 2015).
Silicon Valley represents a whole new category of politics: ideologies and corporate cultures that preach how to be themselves, how to communicate and share information, and even how to engage in online politics without state intervention, in the belief that there is always a better solution (Crandall et al., 2021). These utopian ideas have been around for a long time, and now the economy is empowering these idealists in unprecedented ways, and the Democratic Party is their optimal political vessel of choice to achieve this (Manjoo, 2017). Silicon Valley’s ideology is not simply a political left or political right orientation; it represents a broader neoliberal state, rooted in everyday practices fraught with political contradictions (Schradie, 2015). Silicon Valley believes that government itself can operate like competitive and innovative organisations, and that these decisions help to maximise the empowerment of each individual to contribute to society.
Silicon Valley is unique in capturing the magical and fascinating potential of technological innovation and using it to confuse the workings of the dominant work ethic (Kenney & Von Burg, 2001). Elite entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel use their utopian visions and charismatic self-presentation to maintain their image as outstanding leaders, which drives fascinating projects, innovations and outcomes for their companies and indeed for Silicon Valley. In Max Weber’s interpretation, Silicon Valley employees are believed to be endowed with special powers and qualities that are supernatural, superhuman and unavailable to ordinary people (Crandall et al., 2021). Underlying this ideology is a pattern of oppression dominated by masculinity and work ethic, contributing to the Silicon Valley work ethic as an ideology of ‘tech bro‘ masculinity (Wonglimpiyarat, 2006). This ideology has led founders and tech workers to portray themselves and their work as dominated by masculinity, with a tight-knit group of founders sustained by male bonding rather than actual professionalism (Crandall et al., 2021). stated when she was the only woman working for a venture capitalist start-up: “If you don’t participate and go with it, you’re no longer part of that network, and you don’t get the same opportunities”. A survey of women working in Silicon Valley start-ups reported that 60% of women have experienced harassment in the workplace (Mulla, 2019), highlighting the recurrence of masculinity in the form of male hegemony in Silicon Valley and the need for a cultural transformation of Silicon Valley.
This essay firstly demonstrates how the counterculture movement paved the way for the establishment of Silicon Valley culture and ideology, secondly describes the two economies of Silicon Valley and how they intertwine and operate to make up Silicon Valley, and finally discusses the unique notion of utopian politics in Silicon Valley, and the issue of bro culture.. Silicon Valley’s rampant entrepreneurial spirit and creativity captured and fired the public imagination to the extent that every region of the world dreamed of becoming the next technological hub and cradle of future start-ups. The rise of neoliberalism established the internet and Silicon Valley ideology (Schradie, 2015), and the ensuing Silicon Valley culture that took shape attracted countless workers in the technology industry. Silicon Valley has a leading corporate culture and a unique ideology, but there is also a need to change the cultural orientation to reduce masculinity.
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