Space over Place: Situated Innovation Practices in Silicon Valley


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Believe it or not, these slides were presented at an academic workshop in July 2000. The audience liked it, but I think they were wondering what happened to them...were they really at an academic event? Let's say I went for the dramatic effect.

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Space over Place: Situated Innovation Practices in Silicon Valley

  1. 1. Space over Place: Situated innovation practices in Silicon Valley Trond Arne Undheim NTNU, Norway, June 2000.
  2. 2. Dramatis ’Personae’ <ul><li>personae (Venture Capitalists, entrepreneurs, Sarah, and Robert) </li></ul><ul><li>sociologists of globalization (Beck, 2000; Castells, 1996) </li></ul><ul><li>artifacts (Internet, Palm Pilots, cars, roads, apples) </li></ul><ul><li>places (clubs, bazaars, markets, universities) </li></ul>
  3. 3. The setting <ul><li>We are in Silicon Valley between 1999 and 2000, in the period of New Economy, a time and space of flows - Internetted, global, anb networked. The world is conquered by Manuel Castells and his Network Society Troops. Only a few villages resist. </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>A Silicon Valley knowledge worker goes to work in Cisco village together with 8000 co-workers, all in equal cubicles. </li></ul><ul><li>Sarah: ”Cisco will change the way people live, play, live and learn” </li></ul><ul><li>The storyteller: But how? </li></ul><ul><li>Sarah: ”We do everything online” </li></ul>Cisco Systems Inc. San Jose, June 2000
  5. 5. <ul><li>In the year 2000 Silicon Valley people log on to company Intranets, check emails constantly, get SMS, answer cellphones, plan meetings, get instructions, and work face-to-screen. </li></ul>
  6. 6. <ul><li>Technology is ’paramount reality’ and money and progress the only measures of success. </li></ul><ul><li>Silicon Valley people spend their time, energy and effort in a constant interplay of spaces. </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>In the year 2000 everything is global and networked </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Storyteller: ”What’s your workday like? </li></ul><ul><li>Robert: ”I spend my day building start-up companies. I see them every day, set up meetings for them, coach them, encourage them, and listen to them” </li></ul><ul><li>Storyteller: ”What’s your biggest challenge? </li></ul><ul><li>Robert: ”Trying to convince venture capitalists to drive up to Concord even though it interrupts their lunch schedule </li></ul>Meanwhile, in Concord, 2 hours driving and 1 Bay Bridge away from Silicon Valley
  9. 9. <ul><li>” There are others who resist, too. Dan’s Internet incubator has Berkeley as a niche. Privileged access to start-ups, professors pass on deal-flow, and Dan’s network of contacts is indispensable to young entrepreneurs”. </li></ul><ul><li>(An email arrives on the Palm Pilot): ”Rooftop party for Internet professionals in San Francisco. Be there” </li></ul><ul><li>Storyteller: ”Virtual culture has sexual needs” </li></ul>Enter Storyteller (watching a drum-circle on the Berkeley university campus):
  10. 10. <ul><li>Choir (chanting): ”Those who use Internet for everything will not taste the apples of Concord or San Francisco’s Rooftop pleasures. Technology can not take away the limits - the socialities, moods, and materialities - of the human condition” </li></ul>Enter Deus ex Machina
  11. 11. <ul><li>Storyteller (soliloquy): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>” To become Silicon Valley workers, aspiring start-ups engage in convincing work - being there when places emerge and making places happen. </li></ul></ul>One month later, during a walk late at night on Ocean Beach, San Francisco
  12. 12. <ul><li>” Silicon Valley is not a hub in a space of flows. The Valley is a laboratory where things (ideas, people, visions) are mobilized to build companies. This happens by way of engineers, helpers, and tools (capital, experience, technology)”. </li></ul><ul><li>” The Valley is above all a place, a geographical area where people meet and are passionate - about ’simple things like women and fast cars’ as Knorr-Cetina says, but also about technology, about the beach, and about visions of the future”. </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>” Communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) arise because knowledge is embodied (STS). In order to be a persona (a person with a mask, who plays a role), you need to act” </li></ul><ul><li>” To act you use props (Internet, apples) and show up on stage to make new places and make yourself heard in established ones (markets) </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>” Other storytellers will speak of Castells’ conquests when they are over. Are Open Source movements or Financial Markets truly Avant-Garde or merely shortlived spaces of flows?” </li></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>Robert and Dan: ”Regardless of my international links, my use of Internet, and the global markets we are embedded in our own place of work </li></ul><ul><li>Sarah: ”Cisco is my social circle. Work is my life. I love Sherry Turkle” </li></ul><ul><li>Storyteller: ”I give up” </li></ul>Exit Castells