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Reviewed by:
  • Secrets of Silicon Valley
  • Lowell Turner
Secrets of Silicon Valley, produced and directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, 2001, 60 minutes.

This is a fine, high-quality film, crisp in presentation with compelling musical background, a quite professional and aesthetically pleasing piece of work. An effective juxtaposition of interviews with IT industry CEO's and assembly-line production workers is interspersed with events such as team-building homemade go-kart races and a visit from President Clinton to a rally for a community training center called Plugged In.

The basic story line is well known: there are two Silicon Valleys, one for the higher-end professionals, another for the less visible lower-end production and service workers. In a nicely presented series of interviews with workers, the film explores the realities of low wages, temporary Manpower employment, inaccessible benefits and weak health and safety protections for a workforce [End Page 93] made up almost exclusively of minorities, immigrants and women. Inspirational words from senior executives about how everyone has to keep up and innovate are followed by the reality of life in East Palo Alto, one of the only close-in neighborhoods still affordable for production and service workers.

But there is at least one source of hope for residents of East Palo Alto and others in need: a skills training center called Plugged In. Here, in a supportive community environment, young workers can upgrade their technology skills for better job prospects in the high-tech world. Promoted by a dynamic young director, the training center attracts attention, scores a high-profile visit from a President interested in job training, and gets enough corporate funding from Hewlett-Packard and others to buy its own building and expand its services.

What the film doesn't show, however, are the limitations of a center such as Plugged In, where individuals get training and perhaps a place on the job ladder, but in a context in which nothing fundamental changes. Dependent on corporate largesse, Plugged In makes few if any inroads against the entrenched injustice of vast economic and social polarization in Silicon Valley. The film also presents the story of a young minority worker, fired for protesting safety conditions, who gets reinstated after appealing to the state labor board—yet again this is an individual battle with no apparent broader ramifications. Real solutions to the social crisis of growing inequality, portrayed here for Silicon Valley but just as common elsewhere (and nicely documented for low-tech America in Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed), are nowhere to be found in this film. While Plugged In may offer hope to some victims of the corporate exploitation portrayed here (built on values expressed by a former hippie now vice president of Intel who extols the motivating force of human greed), meaningful reforms such as union organizing, public policy reform, corporate and workplace regulation are not even addressed in this beautifully done but in the end unsatisfying film.

Secrets of Silicon Valley, produced and directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, Snitow-Kaufman Productions, may be ordered from Bullfrog Films, P.O. Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; phone 800/343-3764; Price: colleges & universities, $250; community groups and unions $59; shipping and handling $6.

Lowell Turner
Cornell University-NYSILR


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 93-94
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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