irony abounds / NY Times on geography + internet

anybody else note this?
I another NY Times article on Thursday that made me smile (see December 21
fluff (dated fluff, in fact) from NY Times ‘styles’ / remember that rug?? about cowhide rugs being over), Silicon Valley Shaped by Technology and Traffic struck me as ironic.

Silicon Valley and physical environs are the physical place where so much work is done to create the virtual (on-line) world. This article is about how important the geographical proximity is to all this development, and the relationship between the many “local clusters”.

real people, close to each other
It turns out that in this most web-centered of worlds, physical location matters so much – and is so specific — that different computer-related work is done depending on how close the work is to San Francisco in the north or to San Jose in the south:

hardware clusters — semiconductors, disk drives and network equipment, for example — are in the SouthValley, around San Jose and Santa Clara. … Moving farther north in the Valley typically means moving farther away from the guts of the machine and climbing up the tiers of computing — from chips to layers of business and consumer software and then into San Francisco, home to people with online advertising and digital design skills.

In Manhattan, there used to be sewing machine repair shops clustered around West 26 Street, off Sixth Avenue, and button and ‘notions’ in the high West 30s, west of Eight Avenue, when the Seventh Avenue corridor in the 20s and 30s really did center the fashion/needle trades. (As just one example.)

Funny how the same benefits of proximity and concentration matter to the internet world.

Silicon Valley, the wellspring of the digital technologies fueling globalization, is itself a collection of remarkably local clusters based on industry niches, skills, school ties, traffic patterns, ethnic groups and even weekend sports teams.
“Here, we have microclimates for wines and microclimates for companies,” said John F. Shoch, a longtime venture capitalist.
Silicon Valley, home of Stanford and other universities, has long been the model of success for a modern regional economy, and policy makers worldwide have tried to emulate it by nurturing high-tech companies around universities. There have been a few winners, like the semiconductor manufacturing hub in and around HsinchuSciencePark in Taiwan.
Yet a look at the microclusters within Silicon Valley demonstrates the business relationships, the social connections and the seamless communication that animate the region’s economy. It also suggests the human nuance behind the Valley’s success and shows why that success is not easy to copy, export or outsource.
“These microclusters turn out to be a very efficient way to innovate, to see what works and what fails, and do it extremely rapidly,” said AnnaLee Saxenian, an expert in regional economies and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
New companies, and emerging industry clusters, seek to build on and tap the skills of older clusters.

I take it as an argument for why cities matter, even if there are only a few sewing machine repair shops on West 26 Street, or only a few high-end photo processing plants on West 17 Street, or even if the West 47 Street diamond merchants get clustered in one large building. And even if the peninsula south of
San Francisco is not a city.

There’s more opportunity for that human nuance to come into play when people are clustered, even if the people spend their time on computers.

© Sandy Mattingly 2007

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