If you ever find yourself having to ride CalTrain on the Peninsula for work, I can't think of a better book to read than "River of Shadows," Rebecca Solnit's 2003 meditation on the pioneering English/Californian photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The book also contains a concise history of Muybridge's partner in "motion studies," the railroad robber baron Leland Stanford. Riding on the 19th century relic that is CalTrain you can still almost feel the hook of that old monster.
I finished the book today, and its summing up of present-day Silicon Valley rang true:
"Muybridge pursued the transformation of bodies and places into representations, representations that in some ways fed that unslaked desire for landscape, geography, beauty, embodiment, and the life of the senses, but Stanford, who hammered the Golden Spike, pursued the annihilation of time and space without mercy, without misgivings, without deference to what might be lost, and this might be the difference between Hollywood and Silicon Valley."
"Hollywood would become the center of the world of movies, while Silicon Valley is the center of the world of information technology, and in the way these two institutions dominate the world one can say California is the center of the contemporary world, but of a world in which time and space have been annihilated, a world that is in some obscure way so disembodied, dislocated and dematerialized that the very idea of a center is perplexing."
The Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg has also been a constant artistic reference in my month-long sojourn among the Peninsula digerati, "Scanners" in particular, with its scary office parks filled with Faustian characters.