Under the shade of a tree Paul Saffo, a Stanford futurologist, described Silicon Valley as being built on the sedimentary layer of the scientific and industrial complex that emerged from the Second World War. Decades of state-incentivised research and development, he said, had acted as a rich mulch from which the Apples and Googles and Facebooks could grow.
Before vacuum tubes, transistors and silicon chips, this area was called the Valley of Heart’s Delight. It was a verdant pocket of land, full of fruit farms whose produce was canned and carried eastwards by rail.
When Paul was a child there was a plane, he said, that would fly punters low over the orchards for three dollars. On those late afternoons he would open the window of the plane so as to catch the scent of prune blossom that rose from the warm ground.
The homes, stores and offices of Silicon Valley still hide under trees, full of hummingbirds, fruit and blossom. How different were those orchards, grown from the fertile soil of geological time, to these enterprises now, drawing capital from the slow work of basic-science – both having deep roots and delicate, perfumed crop?
Kids sped down the hill, some straight, some in wobbles that threw them from their boards. Spectators lined the street in Tour de France width corridors. The police were benign. It was dusk; streetlights and phone screens lit the scene. The skaters grabbed cars to ride up the hill, clinging onto an Uber or Prius provoked raucous hollers from the crowd. Music and firecrackers. When one boy took hold of a sleek, black Porsche, its guttural engine warbled down as the car came to a standstill, refusing to move until he let go. Cries of protest rang into night.
After four days in San Francisco I peeled out along the I-28o, joining the stream of cars heading south. The fog that clung to the city all weekend thinned and dissolved into Californian blue. The sun shone free for the first time, anxieties were burnt away and replaced by the crystal clarity of algorithmic hope.
Tech inherently comes from binary, it’s 1 or 0, and the culture of technology is very digital, it’s very black and white, you fit things into algorithms and boxes. Humans, photography, art, are inherently messy, life is inherently not digital. This is one of the frictions we’re feeling as a society, when technology is a tool servicing humanity then wonderful things can happen, but when we try to fit humanity into technology, we lose our humanity. You lose things around the edges if you try to take the humanity, the arts, out of it. Judy Estrin
Born in Wales and based in London, Nick Seaton studied architecture before becoming a photographer. He now writes, photographs and produces moving-image work for editorial and commercial clients.
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