I got lost on the way to the bank this afternoon. I'm not sure how, but I ended up driving around the streets near where Yahoo's headquarters are in Sunnyvale. I don't know if it's just this area, or if its like this in all of Silicon Valley, but there are so many empty office buildings, it's amazing! Street after street lined with huge empty office parks. It's spooky!
I mean, there's lots of businesses still thriving - I passed by KnowNow and variety of generic-sounding tech companies that probably produce incredibly useful yet insanely boring widgets of one sort or another. But for every one building with cars in the parking lot and lights in the windows, there were at least two others with big real estate signs out front, empty parking lots filled with branches and things blown in from the last storm, and no signs of life whatsoever. If you're in the market for commercial real estate, I bet now is a pretty good time to be shopping...
The buildings just seemed to be waiting to be filled by the next wave of entrepeneurs. You can tell some of these office parks have been around since the 70s or maybe even older, they've all seen a couple waves of companies already, and are now just patiently waiting until someone turns the lights on again, figuratively and literally. And it's not just the buildings, but the people as well... I was chatting with a few people at Mobile Monday who, like myself, were coming back to the Bay Area after being away for a few years while the bust rode itself out.
It just confirmed for me the analogy of Silicon Valley to Douglas Adams' planet of Magrathea.
"Far back in the mists of ancient time, in the great and glorious days of the former Galactic Empire, life was wild, rich and largely tax free. Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, to seek adventure and reward among the farthest reaches of Galactic space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before - and thus was the Empire forged.
Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor - at least no one worth speaking of. And for the richest and most successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they'd settled on. None of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.
And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of this industry was the planet Magrathea where hyper spatial engineers sucked matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets - gold planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes - all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest men naturally came to expect.
But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled over a billion hungry worlds, disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scolars as they laboured into the night over smug little treatises on the value of a planned political economy.
Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the obscurity of legend.
In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it."