The Santa Clara Valley, once home to miles of orchards, is now producing a different kind of fruit – one that shapes our entire world.
No one ever accused the children of the Flower Power generation of being perfectionists but, just as their hippie philosophy has shaped the freedom of the Internet, so does San Francisco continue to shape the world around us. From computer hardware transforming our daily routines, to software companies that determine our virtual world, it reaches into every corner of modern life. The most fertile ground for these revolutionary ideas is the Santa Clara Valley, better known as Silicon Valley. It stretches south from San Francisco airport to San Jose, a high tech city where the flagship Marriott hotel has a squadron of iPads in the lobby and even the trams sport wi-fi.
The Valley has more millionaires and billionaires per capita, and the highest average wages of anywhere in the USA – topping $100,000 for the first time in 2011. It is also home to the biggest company in the world, Apple, worth nearly half a trillion dollars; the biggest Internet company in the world, Google, processing billions of search requests a day; and the biggest ever IPO, Facebook, with its one billion users.
Wandering Palo Alto’s neat streets, it still seems little different from any other upmarket college town. Except that those ladies chatting over lattes are not soccer moms but Apple executives planning the next iPad, and that guy on his laptop is not playing World of Warcraft but putting the finishing touches to a multi-million dollar business plan. At a modest feeding hole like the Slider Bar Café on University Avenue, I pull up a seat, open my ears and tune in to conversations peppered with terms like “margin analysis” and “burn rate”. I am listening to seriously big deals being thrashed out over seriously tiny burgers.