Recently I found myself at the center of the Earth.
“Dad,” my 21-year old son said the morning after we arrived in San Francisco for a weekend visit, “How do you feel about driving out to the Silicon Valley?”
Ah, I thought to myself, Mecca for the digital generation. Home to Apple, Google, Facebook, and literally countless other technology firms who continue to create the new economy. Drawing from a community rich in engineering and a rebellious streak, the region is in many ways the new Detroit – a powerful economic engine single-handedly shaping the world.
“Sure,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
The next morning we found ourselves driving down the interstate as my son read directions from the app on his phone. The irony of us driving to the center of a world where the dreams of smartphone were born was not lost on me.
Within a few minutes of exiting the interstate, his phone led us to the Google campus. Talk about going to the Land of Oz – as we entered the grounds, we drove through soccer fields, softball fields, and waking trails. As we parked the main office, we found not only multi-colored bikes provided for employees and visitors to explore the grounds, but giant statues representing operating systems. In front of a 12-foot Android statue sat a melting snowman – a leftover from the day before when Google trucked in snow for employees to build snowmen and toss snowballs at each other.
Walking the grounds we found beautiful sculpture gardens, a free haircut station and friendly employees (one who invited us in for lunch). The environment was a surreal as anything I’d ever visited.
But the experience did not end there. A short while later my son’s phone led us to the campus of Facebook. We were welcomed inside, offered bottled water and invited to look around. While we were asked not to take photos, I will always remember seeing a giant whiteboard wall with literally thousands of Post-It notes with ideas written down on them waiting for development.
Finally we found ourselves arriving an address better known in the tech world than that of the White House: 1 Infinity Drive – or home to Apple, Inc. Standing in the parking lot, I watched as tourists captured photos of themselves standing next to the white horizontal entrance sign. This, for many, was an iconic symbol rivaling Disneyland or the New York City skyline. And like any good tourists, my son and I did the same.
As the day ran out of hours, my son and I followed his phone to the across ridge of mountains and back down to a two-lane road which ran alongside the ocean. There, standing on the sand with waves crashing in front of me, I found myself trying to process and digest all I’d seen and experienced over the afternoon.
In one afternoon, I realized, I’d traveled to the center of the Earth. Arguably, this relatively small patch of real estate is now the most powerful and influential collection of companies on the planet. Measure by lives it touches each day. Measure in total market capitalization value. Measure by the sheer volume of who’s who of company’s signs you see outside the car windows as you drive down the tree-lined streets. Hands down, there is no other region like it on the planet.
As we drove back to the hotel realized I’d just seen not only the present, but also a possible glimpse of the future – a world moving towards living and communicating without regard to man-made borders. If this is indeed the future, I’ve great faith for our little blue planet.
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