Silicon Valley, a 20-mile strip on the San Francisco Peninsula where high-technology firms have ridden a fast track into the computer revolution, is undergoing a shakedown but is still a symbol of America’s future, says a book chronicling the valley’s history.
Stories of overnight fortunes and staggering losses in the land of concrete, steel, silicon computer “chips” and human flesh are among the topics of “The Big Score, The Billion Dollar Story of Silicon Valley.” (Doubleday, $18.95).
Author Michael S. Malone said he grew up in the Santa Clara Valley and watched it change from a quiet, orchard-filled area to a fast-paced technology hub with crowded freeways and sprawling housing tracts. He has interviewed the entrepreneurs of high-tech businesses and examined a dark side of broken marriages, cocaine abuse and espionage.
Malone calls the valley a “cultural wasteland” of pure market capitalism where new ideas are constantly emerging, often making young entrepreneurs instant millionaires, and where the loose money tempts many to go astray.
“The valley has developed the greatest support system in the country for new ventures,” said Malone. “If you make it, you can become very, very rich.”
However, he added, a person who fails can quickly become a non-person to investors.
“The gold rush myth about Silicon Valley is true,” he says. “This is the greatest dynamo for the creation of new inventions and new wealth ever devised. But like any gold rush, for every tale of overnight wealth there are hundreds of untold stories about those who went home broken and empty-handed.”
Although there is a slump in the computer industry, Malone predicts there will be new breakthroughs, particularly in the information-gathering field. By the end of this century, he said, access to the world’s knowledge will become a reality for those adept at the technology available.
“Information has become the most important commodity in the world,” he said. “Brahman-like power will be given those who can understand and move through the systems to gather useful information.”
Malone said the valley attracts brilliant scientists, famous executives, venture capitalists, overworked managers, drug dealers, foreign agents, crooked scrap dealers and pill-popping assembly workers. And, despite its flaws, he views the dynamic community as the incubator of the future, the new foundation of America’s economic strength.
“One day we will all live in Silicon Valley, a coast-to-coast industrial park of concrete tilt-up buildings and manicured-grass berms; and then even the most remote citizen will know the meaning of this new electronic Zeitgeist--immediately,” he writes. “Then there will be no turning back. Already there is a Silicon Gulch, a Silicon Mountain and Silicon Prairie. In time there will be a Silicon World.”