Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

From Silicon Valley To Media Valley - A Giant Gutenberg Machine Of Programmable Media

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 6, 2013

Watch Silicon Valley on PBS. See more from American Experience.

The superb American Experience documentary series on PBS finally cast its focus on Silicon Valley yesterday evening in an 82 minute program largely focused on the founders of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel.

The heroes of the story are eight scientists, in mechanical, electrical, metallurgical, and optical engineering, and a chemist.

It's a story that takes place more than half-a-century ago, when the "traitorous eight" left  their employer Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory en masse because their boss, William Shockley, had become grossly egotistical and a horror to work with. He sounded like an early version of Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder.

It was shocking to leave an employer, which is why they were called traitors. In those days loyalty was expected, as were the lifelong careers that companies provided. And it's this "traitorous" culture that continues to grow Silicon Valley, as people continually leave to create new startups.

American Experience also showed the close connection to the US Department of Defense and how military spending was the prime source of money for new ventures for a very long time.

Foremski's Take:

The American Experience "Silicon Valley" story ends in early 1970s with Intel's development of the 4040 microprocessor -- which signaled the official start of the "Digital Age." It ends about the time when the name "Silicon Valley" was used for the first time by journalist Don Hoefler in Electronic News.

The Silicon Valley that these eight men helped create is a far different place today, primarily there's no silicon chips being made. Over the past 40 years Silicon Valley would have needed a name change every five to 10 years.

In the 1980s it became a "PC Valley" as hundreds of PC companies and hard drive companies each competed for "just 10% share" of the market. In the 1990s it became a "Network Valley," or a "Communications Valley," with a "Multimedia Gulch" in San Francisco.

It's all about media...

Today it's a "Media Valley" whose top companies, such as Google and Facebook are better described as technology-enabled media publishers, and where thousands of startups create media technologies and related products and services.

Intel makes chips that are better described as media processors; Apple and other PC makers make computers that are essentially media hardware platforms that create as well as publish all types of media.

Silicon Valley has a massive media industry that's leaving New York's media industry in the dust.

Companies such as Google et al, don't like to be called media companies because they work with traditional media companies who think of them as tech companies and not as competitors.

Silicon Valley has become a giant Gutenberg Machine built from a vast array of powerful media technologies.

From movable type to programmable type...

Mass production of movable type was the innovation that Gutenberg pioneered more than half a millennium ago. Silicon Valley's Gutenberg machine is based on programmable type -- the publishing of any type of media content in manipulable forms and formats that can change dynamically in real-time.

And that giant Gutenberg Machine can be accessed in micro versions, pocket sized, enabling anyone to publish anything, at minuscule cost and with minimal effort.

The Internet is an advanced publishing technology. In it's first phase it allowed any content to be published to any type of computer screen that could display a web browser.

Now, any web browser or any connected app, can publish back. We've wired up the other end of the Internet -- it's now a two-way medium. 

If you thought the first version of the Internet was amazing, hang on to your hat because this two-way Internet will blow our minds in ways we can, and can't imagine. It's an incredibly innovative and creative space. And it's happening here -- in Silicon Valley.

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