“Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a location.”
– Reid Hoffman
It’s 1913, you live in a rural town.
Barnes & Noble have yet to be invented. As such, books are expensive and something of a rarity. Depending on how rural your community is, there’s a good chance that you won’t have a lot of contact with people outside the community. Barring military conscription into an overseas conflict, you’ll probably never leave the country. In fact, there’s a good chance you’ll never leave your own state.
The main social center in your community is a church. It’s where where everyone congregates, where gossip and ideas are spread.
Since you and all your neighbors have similar lifestyles, backgrounds, and interests; and since you are all bound by the same social stigmas, there aren’t going to be a lot of fresh ideas circulating the community.
It’s 1963, you live in a small city.
Congratulations, you live in an era where “naive turnip farmer” isn’t your default social class. Unfortunately, it was for all your older relatives. Your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles; still, more than likely, cling to their old ideals.
You and all the other young people go off to college. You’re introduced to world of new ideas. Academia becomes your social center. A place where new ideas are spread. For the first time ever you’re in a place where you can question the world without facing a crushing social stigma. From this point forth, higher education becomes a beacon of progress and change within America. There is no theory too radical to explore within the confines of campus.
It’s 2013, you live wherever you want.
As fate would have it, a miraculous device was invented shortly before you were born. Even better, it’s low price tag meant that you grew up with it. Unlike all your predecessors you are lucky enough to own a computer. With it you can explore almost all the knowledge in the universe. There’s a near limitless archive of literature, art, mathematical equations, and scientific theories; all available at the click of a button. Oh, and there’s a lot naked women too. Seriously, you can probably see more breasts in twenty seconds than all your ancestors did in their combined lifetimes.
By luck of the draw, you were born into a world where magic boxes can provide you with whatever you desire.
Any thought you have, no matter how crazy, can be shared with the entire world. And, surprisingly, you’ll discover other people who agree. You can make a business with no tangible components. Sell words written in electric ink to a corporation in Moldavia, total delivery time: two seconds. If you want to learn something, be it calculus or picking up women, you can find thousands of mentors. The days of trekking to Tibet, searching for sensi are long since past. Some of the world’s greatest experts are a mere Tweet away.
Within our lifetime, I suspect the university to become a quaint relic of a past long forgotten.