Finding Silicon Valley in Two Passages from E. B. White’s “Here Is New York”

Two excerpts from E. B. White‘s 1949 essay,  “Here Is New York,” that I thought were also applicable to life in Silicon Valley

Finding Silicon Valley via E. B. White’s “Here is New York”

“On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
E. B. White in “Here Is New York” (1949)

I think it’s also true, at least in technology, that the residents of Silicon Valley “are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.” Silicon Valley is actually a very small place: whether you find yourself here as a visitor or a new settler you should open yourself to serendipity. Stop by a Bootstrapper Breakfast if you find yourself at loose ends early some morning.

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last-the City of final destination, the city that is a goal. lt is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”
E. B. White in “Here Is New York” (1949)

This division into three parts–natives, commuters, and settlers–is also true in Silicon Valley. Many now commute from bedroom communities in the East Bay and points farther East and South. What the Silicon Valley settlers lack in comparison to those who aim for New York–probably less interest in the arts or finance–they compensate for in their commitment to innovation, science, and technology.

I still worry that Silicon Valley is a nicely furnished room in a house that’s burning down (the State of California). I found  White’s essay worth reading 70 years after he wrote it, with these two passages in particular offering insights applicable to Silicon Valley.

“Manhattan. Sometimes from beyond the skyscrapers, across of thousands of high walls, the cry of a tugboat finds you in your insomnia in the middle of the night, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island.”
Albert Camus in “American Journals” (written in 1946; published in 1978)

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