Americans are suppose to be, in the grade school mythology that still survives despite a new and pernicious national cynicism, a unique combination of hard working, thrifty, practical people of restless energy fired by noble pioneer dreams. Tomorrow always beckons towards a brighter day, the frontier of success always lies just over the next ridge, the way west always holds the mystical path to progress. Westward look, the land is bright, the poet said. And here, at land's end down the peninsula and along the bay, where remnants of redwood forests still are clustered on distant hills, lies the place where dreams come true.
It is the land of the new technology, which creates the new cult, and in turn spawns new fortunes and new communities; not the crumbling cities of the East nor declining prairie towns of the Midwest, but models of prosperity filled with bright, vigorous young people who have taken great risks, won great material goods, and formed towns and cities that provide perhaps the best advantages in schools and recreation and other governmental services in the country. Their efforts are being felt around the world and are destined to have even greater impact on life everywhere in the closing years of this century. In the best storybook fashion, it has all come about so suddenly.
And it is all, literally, a culture built on sand.
Now this true-life modern-day fable enters an old familiar stage and storyline: problems in paradise. "Perhaps success is not always sweet," one citizen says. "Perhaps there are more important things in life." Another leading resident agrees. "We impact life, but it isn't where I'd like to see the world going," he says. "If this area has that much influence on our ideologies and our philosophies and our way of life God help us." The Valley The place is the Silicon Valley in Santa Clara County, 40 miles south of San Francisco. You won't find "Silicon Valley" on any map, although that term is becoming known around the world. Like the material for which it is named, it is a relatively new creation.
Twenty-one years ago the invention of the silicon chip touched off an electronics revolution that continues with virtually unlimited possibilities. On a crystal made of silicon, about the size of a fingernail, are placed tens of thousands of transistors, diodes, capacitors and other electronic material that form the so-called integrated circuits (or semiconductors) of the space-age technology that reshapes our lives. The silicon chips are the brains of computers and perform an ever-increasing range of tasks -- everything from controlling the path of unmanned missiles and providing digital watches to converting sunlight into electricity, thereby leading to the prospect that someday they will fuel the machines of the future just as petroleum has moved the engines of the 19th and 20th centuries. It all started here, and Sunnyvale is its heart.
A boom rivaling that of the Gold Rush days has transformed Sunnyvale and Santa Clara County. From the benign agricultural community of the recent past, this area of the San Francisco Bay has become a succession of a affluent suburban homes and low lying structures that house the new high technology electronics companies -- which now number 1,700 in the valley. Sunnyvale alone has more than 600 industries recognized around the world. In the beginning, Sunnyvale welcomed them. They brought prosperity -- and more and more people. In 1950 the city numbered less than 10,000 people; by the end of the decade the population had risen to 53,000. Another 10 years saw an almost doubling of the population. Now, some 106,000 people live here, and another 100,000 come here daily to work.
To Sunnyvale and the valley came some of the nation's brightest young engineers. In a time when other American industries are declining -- or dying -- Silicon Valley has become the vanguard of the new high technology that creates success story after success story. In a day when amassing great personal fortunes supposedly has long since passed, here millionaires are made overnight. In an era which concerns are voiced about reaching the limits of growth, herestands a business that professes no bounds on its ability to produce goods the world needs and will consume.In an industry that is specialized, here you have a technology that has a direct relationship to a host of products manufactured everywhere and stands to become the third-largest in the world by the year 2000.
Hard work, long hours, creativity and inventiveness have paid off in a material way -- and produced other, not surprising, results. It is said that half of the marriages here fail; Sunnyvale and the valley are the home of a singles society that believes in itself and, after the strain of the day, the pursuit of pleasure. From the beginning, part of the attraction here lay in the physical surroundings -- the daily warm sunshine, the proximity to ocean and mountains, the easy access to the agricultural fruits of the valley -- as well as the excitement of helping fashion the future. (A radio station here implicitly expresses part of that pride when it broadcasts what it calls, "Technology Update, broadcasting from Silicon Valley, world headquarters of the 21st century."
But along with this great surge has come inevitable problems. Housing prices have soared to the point where the average price of a home in Sunnyvale is $126,000 -- and that for a modest three-room tract dwelling, or cottage. Traffic has reached the saturation point: traffic jams stalling cars for up to an hour are common, and one local Sunnyvale street carries a higher peak-hour volume than the Bayshore Freeway.
Sunnyvale was being strangled by its success. Smog rose in the valley. The water pollution control plant could not handle more sewage. Couples with combined incomes of nearly $60,000 found they could not afford to buy a home in the city. Companies found they no longer could attract those bright young people from the best engineering schools because of the cost of living here.Sunnyvale discovered all of its planned projections for the future outmoded for the present: the amount and rate of growth was three times greater than anticipated. "This was the land of opportunity," Bill Powers, the city's community development director says. "Rates of growth of 30 to 40 percent are not uncommon among the companies here. What we learned was that the 1990s got here in l980. We were beginning to destroy the very things people came here for."
Early this year, in a move that attracted national attention and business consternation, Sunnyvale's City Council proposed a four month moratorium on industrial growth in order to assess its future development. Sunnyvale was saying it couldn't handle more jobs. It needed breathing room.
"Such things as being able to breathe when you go outside, not sitting for 40 minutes in a traffic jam, looking at the hills and seeing no smog are perhaps more important than saying you're in the job-rich Silicon Valley," - says Judy Belk, the city's community relations director.
The high-technology industry here, which has so many other lessons to teach the rest of U.S. business and the nation, is cooperating with the city and county in planning for a different future. Hewlett-Packard, a leading electronics firm and one that has played a major part in the valley, has made available the services of an executive to work with the city for a year on energy conservation activities. Already manufacturing functions of many of the companies are moving elsewhere, where the central headquarters and research and development functions remain in Silicon Valley. They are being created in the same kinds of environment as originally existed here -- places of open land, low labor costs and an appealing climate. Like amoebas that are constantly dividing, or genes that are being split in the new biomedical companies also in this Bay area, other Silicon Valleys are rising in Tuscon, Ariz., and Austin, Tex., and Salt Lake City, Utah, and Boise, Idaho.
For better or worse, they all have something to say about American's future direction -- and not only as regards its industry. What lies in the original Silicon Valley is an example of the present national unhappiness over the presidential prospects and the disparity between American technological success and the failures of its political system. The Pioneer
To Geoffrey R. Ainscow, who has taken a year's leave from Hewlett-Packard as its senior personnel administrator to help work with with Sunnydale on energy conservation, the Silicon Valley represents what he calls "the spearhead of evolution."
"I would even go more specific," he says. "Between Redwood City on the north and down to San Jose on the south is probably the forefront in every aspect of life. Look at it. Say one aspect is the physical. We live in a very wealthy area.We've got two cars and beautiful houses. We've got all the peaches we can eat, right in the trees around us. We do not want for anything in the physical here. Looking at it from a world perspective, we are very rich. We're probably the richest people in the world if you look at the life style.
"Look at the mental level. You've got Berkeley, Stanford, Santa Clara, USC all around you -- a very high concentration of brains. Very high. The electronics industry has mushroomed. We now put a computer on a 300-mill square chip, and the brains to do that are phenomenal.
"Then you go into the next state and look at the psychic or emotional world.I see in this area two things: during the '60s we had the flower people and all that stuff -- all these cults, all these psychic phenomenon or feeling groups. We've got lots of religions, lots of churches. My parents think we're so far out here in the West, that we're crazy. You get Jonestown. That is really crazy for people to give up their identity to do something like that. But it's also a sign we're on the edge of psychological and spiritual development, even though it's probably being used for the wrong thing. We're at least pushing the art in that area. When I came here I said what is the best place in the world -- Canada, Australia, the United States -- and the United States won out."
Ainscow is an immigrant, and his way West was certainly in keeping with the motivations of the early pioneers, though certainly he came here in different circumstances. After graduate training as an engineer in his native England, Ainscow decided it was time to look elsewhere for his future. nIn December of 1967, with his wife and young daughter accompanying him, he boarded a rusty old Swedish cargo ship at London's Pillsbury docks and sailed down the channel, across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and, four weeks later, under San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. "I think I had an inner yearning for more," he explains of his move, "more sunshine, more tennis, more opportunity, and I could see stagnation in England coming. My brother had immigrated 10 years before me to Canada, but ended up in San Francisco. I had no job when I came here. It took me two weeks to find a house, a job, and a car." He started in with Hewlett-Packard as an engineer and has been in Silicon Valley since. Today he considers himself the luckiest person to be doing exactly what he wants.
Now Ainscow, a slim man with curly dark hair and a still-distinct British accent, has become a citizen and a sharp observer of American political life. He doesn't like what he sees.
"America was born with a very solid foundation," he says. "If you go back and read the Declaration of Independence, that provides a very solid beginning. Okay, 200 years is a very critical age for a nation. Look at the history of nations. It happens to a person also. When you're born your goals are well defined: at age 7 you do something, at age 14 you go to school and there's no fuzziness about what the purpose of being 14 is. Same thing at 20: going to college to get that degree. At 35 you say, 'I'll just have more of what I had at 27.' At 45 you're going for more than you had at 44. And the goal gets fuzzy. That's what happens in a nation's life: hThe goal gets fuzzy.
"The crisis -- and I really believe it is a crisis -- the world is in and the U.S.A. is in is over a lack of leaders. Two hundred years ago the Puritans who came here had a vision; they knew exactly what they were going for. Abraham Lincoln knew what he was going for. When Kennedy said, 'Let's have a man on the moon,' we had a vision, a very well-defined goal, and you got an incredible amount of cooperation and they did it. It was an incredible feat to put a man on the moon. The problem is today we don't have a goal to live up to. It's very hard to have a peacetime goal. In a war, it's clear what your goal is. So in 200 years we've come through our adolescance to maturity, but we really don't know what maturity is as a nation. a"There's another thing that's happened to the planet which is unique in this time. I left England to go West to get more. I cannot go West any more. Traveling over the Pacific to get away from problems here, I would end up back in the beginning. The planet is smaller. There are very few frontiers of the physical to conquer. That's why man is striving in the universe. Another thing is we are coming to the carrying capacity of the planet. You hear a lot about that these days. We're in an era of limits, in an era of scarcities, because we're reaching the limit of the population of the planet. Also for the first time in history, mankind has the ability to blow the whole thing up. We have 17,000 pounds of TNT in this nation for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Now 50 years ago we did not have that. That is very scary. What it should bring is responsibility.
"The most disturbing thing about this presidential campaign to me is we're not forcing the candidates to talk about the issues. That's one little beef I have with the press. I feel the press could help in this area a lot. We need a president to have vision, to speak further than the economy and his own nose. If we don't, we'll go down with the whole boat. We need to start making decisions based on global information.
"About the presidency, we're in a real hard state. You've got to pick somebody. I had a lot of hopes for Carter when he first went in. He was saying to me a lot of the right things. He had a good vision of the world. But he's been worn down, totally worn down. I've felt as though he hasn't really stood and held to his identity. So I'm disappointed in him. h
"Reagan scares the living daylights out of me. He looks at issues the same way he looked at issues in the 1950s, which is more than 20 years ago and things have changed dramatically. He's not changed with them. When you look at what he says and see how he thinks, I do not see reality. He is still in the old work ethic that if you work hard, everything will be all right. What he believes by working hard is getting more physical belongings. The carrying capacity of the planet is running out. We've got 4.2 billion people on the earth today. In the year 2000, we'll have more than 6 billion." The Farmer
Charlie Olson looks out the door of his office and sees the house in which he was raised, and the same land that he and his father and grandfather have been farming since before the turn of the century. He also looks at the city of Sunnyvale, now all around him. Once, the Olsons were among many farmers here. Today Charlie is the last in town. Where the farms stood not long ago are homes and shopping centers and public buildings -- all in the one-story style that suits this California section of palm trees, few remaining orchards, warm days and soft nights that do convey a sense of ease and casualness.
Charlie, a tall, rangy man who once played football in Colorado and has kept the athlete's physique, came home in the late 1950s after college to help his father on the farm. He's the sort of fellow who speaks quietly but with a wry sense of humor and sharp comments. Charlie feels both sad and philosophic about the changes in Sunnyvale. "I'm not sure it's for the best," he says, "but it's here. A lot of people here would like to slow it down but don't know how. I don't either. I talk to a lot of people that we sell our fruit to -- we sell fresh fruit in the summer and dried fruit in the winter, cherries and apricots; we sell them here in our stands and ship them East to New York City -- and they constantly tell me they wish things were the way they used to be. Or even a little bit slower. But I don't know how to stop it.
"My father diversified somewhat. We have a packing house and other commericial properties, but we decided to stay in farming. Many of our neighbors have converted to shopping centers and apartment buildings. They've done very well. But we have been able to make a living and there are a lot of rewards: You get a lot of pride and a lot of attention, because we are the last."
Charlie's view of the country and its politics is colored by his own problems. He sees inflation and the cost of farming -- all his fruit must be picked, sorted, and packed by hand -- posing a threat to his existence. "In 1956, when I was getting out of the University of Denver," he recalls, I remember an economics teacher saying that if you wanted to know how the country was going to go, look, look first at New York City and then at England. And he was right on. I had dinner last night with a friend who lives and works in London, England, and he told me he can't find any people to work and when he does, there's no workmanship, no pride. You're seeing that in his country, and that's what disturbs me. Just look. Everything you buy is made in Japan or Korea or Hong Kong or West Germany or Taiwan or the Phillippines. I don't blame the unions, I don't blame anybody, but it's a sad thing. We're losing our pride, our craftsmanship, and its hurting the country. Some say the government's at fault because of too many licenses, too many taxes. I don't know. But I'll say that has a lot to do with it. All these taxes supporting all these people who aren't working.The private sector has shrunk and the public sector has taken over the labor force. That's one reason I like Reagan, I really do. I like his ideas."
Charlie was sitting at his desk in his office, looking out a screen door at his house, the shed and 33 acres around it, when the phone rang. Orders for apricots. He hung up, swung back around to his visitor, and began talking with more animation about politics.
Carter's a very well-meaning person but totally incompetent," he said. "Everything he's done has turned sour on him. He made a lot of promises when he got elected. The first thing I did not like was the Panama Canal giveaway and then all these foreign policy disasters and the oil prices went crazy and the inflation went rampant. I see Carter was assailed in South America for sending a woman to a funeral when they don't even recognize women in those countries. So they were insulted. Then he's going to send his mother to Tito's funeral and see all the flack he got there. I will say this: I don't say he was wrong in our eyes, but I'll say when you're in Rome, do as the Romans do. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's the way I see it. Nixon didn't seem to have those problems. Neither did Kennedy. Kennedy was acclaimed around the world. I do feel the pendulum swings, and it's time to swing it back."
Charlie had to meet someone on business. He offered a ride in his pickup truck, and on the way outside kept up his conversation: "I buy everyting American. You can see there's Fords and Chevys all over this place. But I bought my daughter a Honda car. That Honda hasn't missed a beat. Gets 40 miles to the gallon. That '72 Chevy there gets 10 miles a gallon and can't pass a gas station. And you know Chevrolet is General Motors, the backbone of the country. It shakes your trust in 'em. Kind of makes you wonder what are they doing? What games are they playing with us?
"Now they claim there's enough oil in this country if it's properly developed. I don't know. I think sometimes the mediais just selling newspapers and the oil companies are in cahoots with the car companies. I do business with my gas dealer over here -- Shell Oil. We have been doing business for many years. Now because we're farmers we get little privileges; they call up and come out and take care of us. Then all of a sudden one month he calls up and says he has half a million gallons of gas extra. He says, "I'll give you five cents a gallon less. Can you take two or three thousand gallons?" I said, I didn't have the storage but you can fill up my tank. Now you tell me. This little station on the corner they've cut diesel to a dollar and got trucks lined up from all over. Now how can they sell diesel for a dollar when Texaco down the way here wants $1.20? And why are all these small gas stations being forced out by the big companies? I don't know. I mean, I'm confused."
On the way back, Charlie was pointing out the places he used to farm, the land that used to exist, the shopping center that stands where he once picked apricots. "I have a lot of nostalgia in me," he was saying. "We used to pick prunes where the City Hall is. In fact, Mr. Johnson, who owned the property, offered it to my father with the little house that was there for $12,000." We swung into the City Hall parking lot. "That asphalt there is covering some of the best land in the world," Charlie said. "And you know what's the saddest thing to me? Most of the people today who buy the fruit in their stores will never know what they're missing. What you get in the stores now will never have the quality the way it used to. Instead of picking it dead ripe now, just about everything's picked in the green stage and shipped. It ripens along the way. But it'll never be as good as it was. aWhat hurts me is that people don't even know how good it used to taste. They don't even know what they're missing. The Entrepreneur
A politician remarked that Sunnyvale and Silicon Valley contain exactly the kinds of people -- the serious engineers, many of them Democrats -- that "Jimmy Carter's going to have to get if he's going to win." The analysis is correct, but that prospect for Carter is doubtful here.
Talk to someone like Regis McKenna and you'll begin to understand why.
McKenna and his wife, Dianne, who is Sunnyvale's vice mayor, came here 17 years ago from their native Pittsburgh. They have watched the expansion of growth all around them, and, in a way, helped create it. He formed his own company here, and has shared in the high technology boom.
"What we have here is a culture of inventiveness mixed with a great deal of entrepreneurship," he says. "But growth industries in this country tend to be inhibited by our government. Look at the biomedical industries moving to Europe. That's because our government acts more as an inhibitor than as a traffic light.In most other countries today -- say Japan, France and Germany -- the governments try to encourage growth industries. They see it as a base for future jobs. Our government still invests in Chrysler and the steel industries and shoe factories -- the dying industries, not the growth ones.
"My fear is my country isn't going to survive unless something is done to straighten out the economy. I'm worried about my own small company and seeing the electronics industry losing out to Japan. The steel industry or the textile industry or the chemical industry that's gone to Germany -- we'll never get them back. Why is Youngstown, Ohio, depressed? I'll bet their comparable cities in Japan and Germany are doing well today."
These concerns directly affect the way he feels about the present administration and Jimmy Carter, for whom he voted the last time.
"My own feeling is a hopeful kind of thing that Reagan would bring in good people. I would like to see a change of people advising on economic policy in Washington. I don't believe that the present administration understands economics. I really don't.
"But I'm kind of torn. I like Anderson. I don't like Carter, and I don't particularly like the morality and the leadership of Reagan. But I also think we've got to get our economy back in shape or we're going to lose everything. I spend a lot of time out of the country and I just came back from Europe. In a little shop in France, the woman shopkeeper asked me what I thought about the American election. She said, "Do you like Mr. Carter?" And I said, well, not really. And she said, "Well, what about that crazy man Reagan?" (They all say that, by the way. The Europeans do not like Reagan.) And I said no, I really don't like him either. She shook her head and said, 'You know, America's such a great country. It's too bad you don't have a great leader.' And I think that's the feeling I have. It's a little bit frightening that we have not had a great leader to come along."
He says he was going to vote for Anderson, "but deep down I'm probably going to vote for Carter. I don't really know what's going to happen with Reagan, and Anderson's a good man to stand up and say the things that need to be said, but I don't think he can put together an organization to solve problems. You don't solve problems by making speeches. I'm concerned with the way the whole structure is working. You know in the semiconductor business all the innovation has come out of the U.S. All of it. It's been copied by Japan and other countries. But, we haven't yet learned how to be innovative with our political system." The Mayor
Maybe the mayor is the answer. Larry Stone is bright, articulate, and in these days of government failures, that rarity, a proven political success. He presides over a city that has a $7 million surplus and is thinking of giving back money to the taxpayers in the form of a rebate; that is known nationally for its parks and recreational system; that provides better city services with far fewer workers than cities of comparable size; that rewards its employees with a merit system of pay and benefit incentives and consequently has high sprit. And he's unconventional -- a liberal Democrat for Carter, but without enthusiasm -- "I don't think any of them is qualified to be president, but the system is designed to produce mediocrity" -- who started as a Wall Street stockbroker and now operates a real estate business that now owns and operates shopping centers in Silicon Valley. He has a healthy perspective about his area and its relationship to the country.
When I became mayor, Harvard selected 13 of us from around the country to take an intensive week-long program on government and how to become a better mayor. The mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, was in our group and I was explaining to him how we had too many jobs, how we were strangling on our own success. As one wag said, we had made a mess of success. And he just couldn't comprehend how that was a problem. He just couldn't focus on why the hell too many jobs and too many people and not enough housing units could be considered problems in this day and age. So I guess this is the American dream being enacted out here more than anyplace else.
"This is the last bastion of free enterprise system going on right here. The electronics industry doesn't have unions. They have the greatest price competition that's offered in the world today; it's not an industry where the prices only go up. In this industry they go down -- and the price of their products has been going down on an average of 30 percent per year. So it's an exciting place to be. We have almost the opposite of what you find in the East; clean industry. These companies don't have any smokestacks. They don't pollute the air. They're fairly low density compared to other areas, and have a nice low single-story landscape look. It's the kind of industry everyone wants and we don't know what to do with it all. We just don't have the capacity to deal with it. So we've got too many jobs. It's too great, too nice.
"But I hope life has more to it than high technology, than what a silicon chip can do. There are several criticisms about Sunnyvale and some of them are valid. We're too homogenous. You're probably now in the best neighborhood in the city. You could go to the worst neighborhood and there wouldn't be that much difference. Having lived in New York and having just come back from there makes you realized how important the melting pot idea really is. There at least you're forced into contact with different people from different environments.
"Not here. That bothers me. We're really isolated. And it's hard to make the relationship and contacts I think people have to have to be fuller human beings than they are. At the same time I think American industry could take a lesson from this area.
"Basically, I'm an entrepreneur. I believe in the free enterprise system -- not the Chrysler free enterprise system, nor the Lockheed free enterprise system, but the real free enterprise system. You make it or you don't. If you don't, you go broke. And there isn't anybody coming along and bailing you out. If I don't make it here I can't go to the federal government and say: 'Hey, bail me out.' I'll just go out of business. And that's exciting. IBM spends more each year trying to eliminate their competition than they do on any human services program, and they're certainly not the worst. Their whole idea is to preach free enterprise, but don't embrace it.
"Something else bothers me about the United States today. We were the wealthiest country in the world, and that's where we got a lot of our self-esteem. Go to New York today and the money is not American money.Down on Wall Street it's the same way. It's the Arabs or God knows what, that have the money and the power, and I think that's going to have a real effect on the self-respect, the self-esteem Americans have to have if they're going to be leaders in the world." The Visitor
Of all the places visited on this long trip across America, none seems more vivid than this land where Horatio Alger found his final perch, where success among the silently whirring computers breeds its own troubles. Vivid is not a word that normally applies to the Silicon Valley. Here everything is so easy, so removed, so comfortable, that many people don't even subscribe to newspapers. Who needs to be informed or concerned about world or national events in such a setting? Soon similar Silicon Valleys will be springing up in remote areas, creating their own isolated high-income homogenous cultures. Driving out of the city, and along the freeway by the bay, a bright yellow cloud of smog hangs over the horizon while the words of two citizens come back.
"I constantly feel like I'm getting too soft in Sunnyvale," one of them, a woman, had said. "It's so easy."
Another, a man, remarked: "Do you know what silicon really is? Sand. It's symbolic that this whole thing here is built on sand. A basic industry that creates a basic way of life. It almost seems like an unreal sort of a bubble."