Silicon Valley Wasteland

The billboard on 101 near Redwood City says it all: a performance by comedian Paula Poundstone, whose bright, yellow name greets drivers for what seems like a mile away. But there's a gray to the sign that seems more foreboding than inviting. And then you see why: February 2001. Yes, going on two years ago.

It's like a fossil, an artifact of a time when money flowed freely and relatively small communities in the valley could score relatively big acts with ease. Then, suddenly, the plug was pulled. Small companies stopped securing venture capital. Large companies stopped paying their bills. And the lights went out - just like that - leaving dot-commers (and all those lumped into this sometimes-inaccurate but regularly despised category) to make rent, cover mortgages, move out of town, find another niche, seek another way of life.

"So what?" you say. They were spoiled anyway. In a word, yes. They were pampered like few other tradespeople have been, with glorified electricians being granted celebrity status. Catered lunches, gourmet coffee, and free soda pop all day long, not to mention the salaries of doctors, or at least fine dentists.

But is the wrong in that these folks ever received this treatment? Although "irrationally exuberant" and luxurious, the techies I came up with were generous and good-natured, with many taking up causes and giving back to the community.

Or is the wrong in that the rest of society never even gets a taste of such pampering? It seemed for a little while like the Information Age was truly going to benefit us all in concrete and immediate ways. As I pass the empty green-glass buildings - whose signs have been removed as if out of shame - I wonder what might have been.