The End of History?

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The distinctive tiles of the iconic “Blue-Cube” building are coming down. Long a landmark near my workplace in Sunnyvale, the Blue Cube’s bland exterior hid the secret Cold War operations that went on there for decades. Acknowledging its historic significance, some of its original blue tiles will be placed at the new education center that will replace it. Its cube shape will remain.

I like it. As a template, this approach neatly captures the essence of the original. What I am not sure, though, is whether the Santa Clara Valley has many more physical artifacts worth preserving, and whether that will even matter.

The valley has been fortunate to have a distinctive history. From the Ohlone people, and the Spanish settlement, through the ranches, vineyards and fruit orchards that followed, many cultural artifacts survived, and I really value the effort to preserve them. However, the valley’s recent history, though prodigious in technological output, doesn’t seem to have generated much by way of memorable physical artifacts.

Which is actually quite fine. A visible cultural history that is preserved even as it is transformed is good to have, but the valley is really very different now. For one, its urbanization has brought uniformity, too. And its output, primarily as compute, storage and networking technology, has been more abstract and conceptual. That history is hence better recorded within computer museums and internet archives than as structures and buildings. The work is also increasingly one of collaboration, so its products are really those of development teams working across state and even national boundaries. So its differentiation is increasingly more a matter of degree than kind.

Rather than holding on to archaic concepts like whimsical 3D icons of new products at company campuses for a sense of place, the valley should  actually embrace what was once said of Oakland – as having no there there. Its products are already everywhere.


With a Perspective, I’m Sriram Raghunathan.