Fragments of a Silicon Valley Childhood
by Ary Chest
Because most of the companies that make it famous are headquartered in the small towns surrounding the large but sleepy city of San Jose, growing up in Silicon Valley is generally written off as any suburban upbringing. To me, that was never the case. While, like every other middle schooler in America, we obsessed over Mean Girls, the social structure was much more complex than who belonged to which clique. Teen-targeted movies were the only things people in my demographic and out-of-touch adults had as a guidance to understand a school’s social state of affairs, which left me bare of the linguistic and anthropological tools to understand how I felt about everything that was going on around me and was happening to me.
There was a certain pride that wafted through through the cultural air that I never really understood. I always felt as if any attempt to put a label on it would’ve been immediately shot down. This partly was due to the fact that I was the weird kid; the one label I encountered that I could always trust to be objective in meaning and in peer reaction. But, nonetheless, my fear of trying to judge the nature of the place we lived also came from the feeling that I didn’t deserve the right to do such a thing. There was a subconscious intellectual hierarchy that most kids I knew seemed to instinctually sense they had to act on rather than fully acknowledge it as a moral obligation. That hierarchy had nothing to do with who was a cheerleader or who won prom queen. It had to do with who could present themselves as a super smart, sweet, touching person in the simplest way possible, with a little flair of either typical attractive masculine or feminine traits to make them humanly romantic. Everyone wanted to be an inventive thinker, and they became one by, essentially, copywriting the definition of inventive , even if they had the most backwards values. This resulted in an attitude that went something like “We have nothing wrong with being (we’ll use the adjective gay, for this example,) because we live just 50 miles away from San Francisco, the gayest city in the world,” said in a condescending, backhanded tone that expresses the thinking behind that sort of statement goes something like “I’m claiming to be accepting so I can fall people faggot and pussy without being criticized.”
Molding oneself to be the person who embodies everything Silicon Valley is known for-enabling people to connect to the world with incredible ease-simply meant taking their personal beliefs and acting like it was a new invention that had the ability to revolutionizing the way we live as if it were a new dating app. It was simple enough to think that way without taking any opposition too personally. With headquarters like Google and Apple and Stanford being practically our neighbors (didn’t Steve Jobs gone to high school here?) from a very superficial point of view, it can be easily concluded that the schools in silicon valley were the perfect matriculators into the jobs that created the future of the world, even though the most reputable of the tech community here is generally very closed doors. After all, our high schools are one of the best in the state, though very few would attribute that achievement to having an inventive (inventive as in forward thinking and original) curriculum besides Japanese being offered for language classes and robotics as an elective. When kids gained recognition as interesting, new age thinker, they had the authority to decide what and who wasn’t-essentially me. “I’m not saying Abercrombie is real fashion because it’s popular and has sexy people modeling for it. It’s just that they happen to be the only brand that makes good clothes,” was the unspoken justification for calling what I liked to wear ugly. If you disagreed, then you were opening up a battlefield to conquer the rights to decide what you should want to be perceived as in addition to what you should be perceiving of others. When those rights were lost, you might as well not exist.
I think back to all the so called friendships I had, and how it never occurred to be my position in them was so beneath everyone else. I was encouraged to be independent as long as I was not unusual. I was encouraged to be different as long as I was not challenging. Like when we were making the transition from fliphones to smartphones, people tend to fall in love with the idea of living with something that provides more mental convenience before the proper effort to determine whether that new cerebral, ideological, or physical thing actually does that is made. Silicon Valley showed me how much ego can feel like real achievement, how much vanity can feel like real beneficence, and how much power can feel like compassion. I don’t think anywhere else these things lived larger than inside the minds and hearts of the 12 and 13 year olds I knew. I still think it’s amazing to say I lived right across the street from the apple headquarters. But that doesn’t mean it made me a top-notch programmer.
About the author:
Ary Chest is a recent graduate of The New School and is currently living in San Francisco.