Silicon Valley, a small place with few identifiable geologic or geographic features, has achieved a mythical reputation in a very short time. The modern material culture of the Valley may be driven by technology, but it also encompasses architecture, transportation, food, clothing, entertainment, intercultural exchanges, and rituals.Combining a reporter's instinct for a good interview with traditional archaeological training, Christine Finn brings the perspectives of the past and the future to the story of Silicon Valley's present material culture. She traveled the area in 2000, a period when people's fortunes could change overnight. She describes a computer's rapid trajectory from useful tool to machine to be junked to collector's item. She explores the sense that whatever one has is instantly superseded by the next new thing -- and the effect this has on economic and social values. She tells stories from a place where fruit-pickers now recycle silicon chips and where more money can be made babysitting for post-IPO couples than working in a factory. The ways that people are working and adapting, are becoming wealthy or barely getting by, are visible in the cultural landscape of the fifteen cities that make up the area called "Silicon Valley."
Though she's no techie herself, she has an uncanny knack for meeting the right people at the right time to get the information she needs to drive her story onward. Talking with successes and failures, pre-IPO orchard workers turned uncertain service industry workers, and unashamed old-tech geeks, she finds a wealth of passion and confusion as social upheaval threatens to make the area's daily earthquakes nothing more than a convenient bundle of metaphors.
Finn is blessed with the ability and willingness to admit her own bafflement--when the goings-on get too weird for her to explain, she just shrugs her shoulders and moves on, leaving explanations to later theorists. Written just as the bust was recognized as more than a temporary setback, Artifacts could have been an epitaph or a morality play; instead, Finn guides the reader to a broader understanding of human motivation and behavior amidst trying times. --Rob Lightner