The Ecphorizer

Silicon Valley Fever: A Review
Barry Leff

Issue #35 (July 1984)

This is how legends are born

Silicon Valley Fever: Growth of High-Technology Culture
by Everett M. Rogers and Judith K Larsen

I picked up this book out of a sense of curiosity similar to the desire to see a video tape of oneself: what do other people think of us?

People who live and/or work in the Valley and who follow the local newspapers, trade papers, etc., will not learn much that is new from Silicon Valley Fever. The story of Apple and the story of Intel (the two major anecdotes in the book), interesting as they are, are probably not new to most locals. If you are not familiar with the history of Silicon Valley, the book may provide some interesting information.The authors slant their perceptions of Silicon Valley with what is best described as the prejudices most typical of the Eastern Liberal Media Establishment. The picture they paint is not terribly flattering: money grubbing engineers, all workaholics, striving for the newest model of Porsche or BMW. The divorce rate is high because with the terrible hours, the men get out of touch with their families, finding their work more interesting than their wives. These engineers are supposedly average people, except they work harder, and have few outside interests. The children ostensible suffer (rising teenage alcoholism rates are cited). We are polluting the environment, driving up the cost of housing, and exploiting the workers, who are primarily ethnic minority women. Women are not present in management and homosexuality is not acceptable. To top it all off, we are living in fear of the Japanese taking over.


It is always easiest to paint a picture of a social group by resorting to stereotypes. Silicon Valley Fever abounds with stereotypes.

Some contrasting points from my experience:

Hours: Yes, people work long hours in Silicon Valley. Typically 50-60 hours a week. There are far more people working 45 hours a week than working 75 hours a week. 70 hour + work-weeks are rather uncommon, and generally only occur for a very brief while at the end of a project. Silicon Valley people are not superhuman; more than 50 to 60 hours a week and you've hit a point of "diminishing returns" (more hours does not produce more).

Social: Divorce and problems with children are probably not much worse here than in any major metropolitan area. Santa Clara County has more divorces than marriages mostly because a high percentage of the people who get divorced here got married elsewhere.

Smog: Pollution and traffic may be getting worse. Hopefully the high cost of housing will constrain growth adequately to slow things down. Silicon Valley is still environmentally far superior to New York, LA, or any city in a developing country.

Exploitation: If $4.10/hour to start, with potential increases to $9.00/hour is such a bad deal, why aren't the ethnic minority women going back to the Phillipines? Do the authors think these people would be better off if business replaced the labor with automated facilities? That would result in fewer, higher paid workers (likely white males).

Japanese: There are plenty of signs that the Japanese machine is slowing down. Japanese kids have seen too much US television. Their work ethic and incredible discipline are starting to erode. Japan is going through what the US went through 20 years ago. There is a cycle from Depression to Prosperity to Stagnation. The Japanese are over the peak. Japan will always be a follower; they don't have the entrepreneurial, individualistic traits that keep Silicon Valley at the leading edge.

Reading the San Jose Mercury gives you a better picture of what Silicon Valley is all about. However, our relatives back East may view Silicon Valley Fever as the gospel and feel sorry for us.

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