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From the Silicon Valley to the Silicon City
Sep 30, 2005 07:27 PM 1684 Views
(Updated Sep 30, 2005 07:27 PM)



It is a well documented fact that technologies produce icons – be it the glitzy movie celebrities on page 3 of newspapers or the commoner on reality television rising to her thirty seconds of fame or the young upstart entrepreneur who starts his own dotcom setup and retires, at 35, a double billionaire of sorts. These icons are the visible face of the promises that any technology holds. They are living proof that given the right combination of luck, effort and talent, we too can become the superstars we are in our head. While the image of the star – the demigod of the masses- is easier to paint in terms of earlier technologies like animation (Mickey Mouse), cinema (Amitabh Bacchan) or Television (Oprah Winfrey), it has been quite a task to search for a similar icon for the new and blossoming IT industry. Inaccurate state estimates tell us that every week about 5,000 new people come to Bangalore in pursuit of their silicon dreams and IT curiosities. While a lot of these people are tourists – passers by who sleep walk through the city like it was just another point of transit, and indeed it is developing to be exactly that – a lot of these people come to visit the city that is literally built of blood, sweat and code, and then there is the lot that comes to Bangalore to make money. It is the dollar hued city of India – touted as the outsourcing capital of the world and the people who come here are in search of facts that would validate the myths that they hear. Bangalore is the new Bombay. And yet, there is something unsettling about first arriving to Bangalore. When you step into the garden city of India, the last thing on your mind is gardens. What you really look for are signs of development, of big money, of business models which run on nothing more substantial than ideas and passion, of people submerged in such an immense geekdom that it comes as a disappointment when you see a normal looking man on the street and come to know that he is a programmer. When you step out of the Bangalore airport, you search for a sign, some sign which says, in an X-marks-the-spot kind of take off, that announces that the visitor has announced. Travellers to Bangalore search for such signs in vain. We all have our vision of what a technology shaped city would look like – something out of a sci-fi we had read where everybody was slightly mutated through technology and the city itself has a suffused artificial neon glow that envelops it in a smoggy haze. Bangalore fails on all accounts. Most people experience a rushed ride through unmanageable traffic, a hasty scramble through malls, a foot stamping game on the few commercial roads, a cramped cheap drink in one of the many malls. The IT city has nothing more to offer and most people go away feeling cheated. We search for monuments, buildings, markers, and new-age mutant ninja hackers strewn across the city. Instead all he found was a chaotic city, confused and crimped and exploding at its seams and held together through the power of faith and the trickle of beer. As India changes gears to become the next outsourcing centre of the world and we move towards creating new IT cities, it is an interesting question to ask: “What is it about Bangalore that makes it the Silicon City?” This is the question that Po Bronson takes to his analysis of Silicon Valley – the prototype on which Bangalore is structured. He looks around for telltale signs of the IT revolution only to realize that the visible face and icons of the new IT technologies are invisible and largely imaginary. Writing in a vivid and imaginative style about what goes into the making of the Silicon Valley and the people who live in it, Bronson takes us through a journey that is unforgettable. A book that documents the lives, the ambitions, the successes, the failures and most of all the eccentricities of a geeky community, The nudist on the late shift throws open immense possibilities of understanding media technologies afresh. Instead of doing a content analysis of how why and what, Bronson attempts to look at the ‘who’ of media – not just the consumers but also the producers, to show the links between the technologies that we deploy and our notion of our self. Bronson illustrates – through numerous case studies ranging from the success story of Sabeer Bhatia to the battles of David Flo; from the emergence of Yahoo! to the monopoly of Microsoft – how technologies and the way we interact with them bring about radical changes in the lives that we live. Funny, diligent and human, Bronson manages to reveal without judging, thus producing an insider’s account of what happens when an entire populace and city are wired in the intricate, fragile and invisible networks of virtual spaces. What is perhaps most striking about Bronson’s analysis of the Silicon Valley is that it provides with a stable and powerful grid to evaluate the silicon cities that are now sprouting in the third world at the rate of mushrooms. Humanising technology is an old habit. Many other writers like Bruno Latour and William J. Mitchell have tried to give technology a human face and explore it as one of the parameters by which we define ourselves. But nobody has succeeded in this task as has Bronson and The Nudist on the Late Shift has to be acknowledged as a touchstone upon which every other book on dotcom and its oddities must be evaluated.

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