Future-Making. Silicon Valley’s Past and Present Futures

The “Silicon Valley”, in political, economic and cultural discourses around “digitization”, “digital change” or “digital cultures”, evokes ­a specific form of understanding the future. It has become an engine for the production and reproduction of possible futures, as well as a place where new technologies are developed and realized, monopolized, controlled and employed for maximum profit. Silicon Valley’s future-oriented discourses are therefore paradoxical: they promise an open and radically different future, while claiming, at the same time, that this future has already begun, demanding immediate reaction. Inasmuch as the Silicon Valley is seen as a globally transferrable model for change, it is an ideal field for conducting critical research into the temporal semantics of digital cultures by exploring the kinds of futures that are produced and stabilised there.

The research project examines how the Silicon Valley—distinguished into different perspectives, contexts and time periods—understands future, and how it produces and stabilises future-orientated discourses. This will be explored in five complementary studies. Two historical-genealogical studies are devoted to past futures of the 1960s and 70s: the first focuses on the temporalities that emerged out of the semiconductor industry, the second one looks at how experts developed and discussed claims of an epochal break due to the coming proliferation of computing technology. A third case study explores founding discourses in Research & Development in the same period, as well as their continuity in the present. The fourth and fifth ethnographic case studies are fully dedicated to present futures: one of them concerns future-oriented discourses in start-ups and established companies in the tech sector, the other one focuses on political and ideological forecasting by experts.

The overarching questions across all five studies are: How are futures stabilized? Which actors, organizations and technologies dominate future-oriented discourses, and what influence do they, in turn, have on the constitution of those actors, organizations and technologies? Which topoi, forms of futurity and claims to validity and agency are incorporated in such futures? What breaks and which continuities can be seen between past and present futures?

This project will result in an essential body of research on the production and reproduction of past and present futures of the Silicon Valley, providing a historically and empirically substantiated contri­bu­tion to the analysis of temporal semantics of digital cultures.

This project is led by Prof. Dr. Götz Bachmann, Prof. Dr. Paula Bialski, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hagen, and Prof. Dr. Claus Pias. All based at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Institute for Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media (ICAM) as well as the Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC).

  • Prof. Dr. Götz Bachmann
  • Prof. Dr. Paula Bialski
  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hagen
  • Prof. Dr. Claus Pias