the nudist on the late shift

The first time that I went to San Jose was in 1992, when the city was still mired in its big transition between the Cold War economy and the new IT economy. I remember commenting to a friend at the time that it reminded me of Poughkeepsie. It seemed very much like a rust belt city, with a practically abandoned downtown, and a circle of suburbs that frankly had no there there.

Over the course of the next 7 years, I had occasion to go to San Jose a lot, first as an organizer for the peace movement (sooooo much fun, talking to those guys like DFNS from Falling Down, who were losing their jobs right and left as the military industrial complex shed positions overnight), and later as someone who was doing electoral and other political organizing in the Valley. During that time, the area changed dramatically.

I just re-read Po Bronson’s Nudist on the Late Shift, a book I read when I was getting ready to leave the Valley in 1999, and I have to say, it’s stood the test of time.

While I never actually worked in the hi-tech industry, I spent a bunch of time in the early- to mid-90s with people who did. A good friend of mine, for example, once dated a woman who worked for Oracle. After they broke up, she put up a website denouncing him, and warning other women not to see him. That might not sound like a strange story today, but this happened in 1994–long before the advent of blogs, or LiveJournal, or any of the kinds of social networking that we have available to us now.

There was definitely a sense permeating the Bay Area at that time that anyone with half a brain could get hired by a high-tech company and make a killing. Friends of mine who had no computer training of any kind–other than that they were capable of operating a word-processing program–were snapped up by software and hardware firms alike. Some of them still work in related-industries–some of them got burned out and moved on to other things.

Bronson’s book gives a good look into the crazy, speculative culture that was Silicon Valley in the ’90s. It made me curious about what life is like there now, and whether there is an ongoing current of hopeful smart people, migrating to the shores of San Francisco to chase a mad dream of high-tech fortune.

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September 15, 2008. books for grown-ups.

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