Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel with Miranda Kerr. Photograph: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Baby2Baby
The financial crisis played its part in Silicon Valley’s Hollywood makeover. “After 2008, a lot of the Ivy League grads who would have gone to Wall Street to make money started to come to Silicon Valley instead. There was a new sexiness about being an entrepreneur,” says Belani. “There have been negative imports that have come with that: a kind of bro culture, or fraternity culture, that arrived with that intake,” he adds. Chueh has seen a physical and cultural migration since she moved to San Francisco in 2011. “Gradually, the ecosystem has moved from Cupertino, where the culture was kind of hardcore geeky, to San Francisco, where it is more about web applications and tech-enabled ideas than it is about hardware and semiconductors.” Chichi members’ clubs have sprung up in the city: the Battery in 2015, the Modernist this year. The size of Silicon Valley egos have been mapped, through the last decade, in the pages of the architecture journals that have tracked an arms race of starchitect-designed offices. The Airbnb headquarters features a replica of the war room from Dr Strangelove. The new Apple Park spaceship has grandeur on a scale to rival the pharaohs’ pyramids.
Silicon Valley has shaped a new culture in which work looks like play (ping-pong tables in reception, bean bags in W1A), but in which being off duty is frowned upon, even at weekends. “This is rooted in the brutal reality that, when you run a website, it’s always on,” says Lane Fox. “It’s not like a shop. You don’t get to close it.” Combined with the sense of mission that is the Silicon Valley creation myth, this has bred a workaholic culture, which has become a badge of honour. “The idea here is that work and play are one,” says Chueh. “Work isn’t something you go to from nine to five to get a paycheck. It’s an extension of your passion.”
The working hours take their toll, and while early startup culture was fuelled by pizzas laid on for team all-nighters, Silicon Valley has gradually absorbed the wellness fixation of its native California. Bowls of free M&Ms have been replaced by meditation pods. At Apple Park, fruit from the 9,000 drought-resistant trees will be harvested for use in the canteen, which will serve 14,000 lunches a day. In parallel with the keto-diet and Bulletproof enthusiasts, Silicon Valley is a driving force behind a boom in veganism, powered by enthusiasm for the new frontier of healthy, sustainable faux-meat products. “It’s cool now to be vegan,” says Belani.
In contrast to the enthusiasm for radical diets and alternative work spaces, fashion in Silicon Valley is noticeably low key. Time spent on sartorial decisions is time that could be better spent working. Form follows function. “You have to look at the weather to understand the dress code here,” says Chueh. “It can be cold in the early morning and hot in the afternoon, so it’s all about layers: a T-shirt and a hoodie. On the other hand, there are no real seasons. So, unlike in, say, Boston, your wardrobe is pretty much the same all year round.”
“I dress totally differently when I am in Silicon Valley as opposed to Hollywood,” says Acharia-Bath. “For instance, no one wears heels here, so, if you do, it becomes, like, a thing.”
The flat-shoe, jeans and backpack uniform, technically unisex, but with a masculine, grey-marl slant, holds up a mirror to a very male world. “This is still an industry so dominated by men, especially at the top level,” says Lane Fox. Which should be enough to give us pause as this culture grows in influence, setting the agenda in ever more arenas. And just as the maverick, anarchic mindset that can be exciting and progressive in startup culture becomes something more dangerous as the big beasts of tech control and shape every aspect of our lives, from the news we read on Facebook to the private thoughts that are open secrets thanks to Google’s search history, Silicon Valley’s radical attitude to nutrition has the potential to act as a gateway drug to more extreme versions of biohacking. Ambrosia is a San Francisco startup that offers transfusions of young people’s blood, for £6,200 a session, to a client list with a median age of 60. Better sleep and an improvement in some early indicators for cancer and Alzheimer’s are among the benefits Ambrosia claims from early research (although the scientific community has been cautious about the results to date).
Yes, this sounds ridiculous. But then, there was a time – not so long ago – when you might have been sceptical about the prediction that, by 2015, the average British child would spend less time outdoors than a high-security prisoner (less than an hour on average, whereas a lifer should get 60 minutes, under UN guidelines). Or that one in three British preschool children would own their own iPad. But what came out of Cupertino changed all that. Silicon Valley is the new Hollywood in many ways, but with one crucial difference: this time, it’s not just make-believe.