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Tuesday, 11 December, 2001, 11:09 GMT
Changing face of Silicon Valley
Christine Finn, BBC
Christine Finn: Silicon Valley "was very bruised"
Alfred Hermida

The impact of the dot.com boom and bust of 2000 on the hi-tech heart of the US, Silicon Valley, has been captured in a new book.

In Artifacts: An Archaeologist's Year In Silicon Valley, Christine Finn of the University of Oxford, UK, provides a snapshot of this turbulent period during which people's fortunes could change overnight.

In her book, Dr Finn combined her journalistic background with traditional archaeological training, to try to capture the fast pace of change in Silicon Valley's material culture.

She first arrived in January 2000, at a time of optimism and multi-million dollar deals. By the time she left Silicon Valley in December, the atmosphere had changed completely, with companies and people living with the aftershocks of the dot.com crash.

"There was an emperor's new clothes thing going on," said Dr Finn. "No one wanted to believe the whole thing could crash. But it surely did."


There's a healing process going on

Christine Finn
"When I went back in April earlier this year, I wanted to hug everyone," she said. "I got the impression it was a place that was very bruised.

"What you're seeing now is a microcosm of a society that really stretched itself to the edge and is now recovering. There's a healing process going on."

Holding onto the past

Silicon Valley, the stretch of land running south from San Francisco, is one of the most intensely innovative enterprise zones in the world.

Computers for sale, BBC
Computer hardware has a fast turnover
Including places like Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Stanford University and San Jose, it has been at the forefront of the communications revolution.

By the end of her year there, Dr Finn felt there was a sense of what was being lost and a realisation of the need to hold on to the past.

"In the last few years, there was a sense of getting rid of stuff, of just keeping moving," she said.

"So the orchards disappear and everyone turns round and asks, where are the orchards? You now have a heritage orchard, whereas before it was an industry."

Material lost

This has led some in the Valley to set up their own small-scale museums, to try to keep track of the fast-changing nature of the computer industry.


About 80% of the material that I recovered last year I couldn't get now

Christine Finn
In an area where most of the time is spent thinking about the future, Dr Finn encountered several people who have started collecting pieces of the past so that future generations can look back and trace the origins of the computer and follow its development.

Even during her work on the book, she found it sometimes hard to keep up with the transient nature of Silicon Valley.

"Suddenly I realised a lot of things were disappearing in front of me," she said.

"About 80% of the material that I recovered last year, I couldn't get now. When I was in the Valley trying to contact people I had interviewed in the book to let them know it was out, I was getting e-mails bouncing back. Their e-mails didn't exist because their company didn't exist anymore."

As an archaeologist herself, Dr Finn believes Silicon Valley could present a challenge for the archaeologists of the future.

"They'd find a lot of confusing things," she explained. "You wouldn't be able to say everyone drove a particular type of car or lived in a particular type of house, which is how we tend to interpret ancient cultures."

In fact, future students of the Silicon Valley of 2000 may completely misinterpret the piles of computer chips found in this corner of the world.

"An archaeologist in 500 years' time, if they didn't have any other records to go on, would wonder what on Earth was going on.

"Perhaps they would make something into a ritual site which wasn't a ritual site, where people go and leave things to appease the gods of venture capital."

Artifacts: An Archaeologist's Year In Silicon Valley is published by MIT press

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Christine Finn
Suddenly I realised a lot of things was disappearing in front of me
See also:

04 Oct 01 | Business
Silicon Valley feels the pinch
26 Apr 01 | Business
Silicon Valley feels the pain
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