In computer manufacturing, “debug” is a term referring to the process of searching for the root cause of a malfunction and exposing it. In journalism, Silicon Valley DE-BUG is the name of a group of young writers who work there. Many people are confused by the title, but our main audience—otheryoung blue-collar temporary workers—relates to it immediately. They recognize it from their work experiences on the shop floors of high-tech factories.
Without any formal training or prior media experience, young assemblers, janitors and machinists have emerged from high-tech warehouses as prolific reporters, essayists and commentators on the otherwise unreported side of Silicon Valley. Pacific News Service (PNS) and Youth Outlook have allowed us to create our own media to communicate our experience to others like us, as well as the rest of the world. Our writers’ average age is 20, and their stories have been picked up from the PNS wire and published in daily papers across the country. Silicon Valley DEBUG is evidence that journalism can be a vehicle of expression for everyday working people regardless of age, class or educational background.
It began with us simply telling our stories that are familiar and confirming to others in our situation and are illuminating to those who don’t know of our struggles. We write about unlivable wages, toxic health hazards, and demoralizing job insecurity faced by thousands of young temps like us in the Valley. The authority of our experience gives the writing a realness that no polished journalist looking in from the outside can offer.
Silicon Valley DE-BUG was first published in September 2000 as a way to communicate about issues with our peers. But it has also become a way to document an important side of Silicon Valley’s history. Our writings give voice to the many blue-collar workers in Silicon Valley who are physically creating technology with their hard labor. These workers include those who do everything from clean computer chips to package printers before they are shipped to stores. Through our writing, we are changing public perception of how high technology is produced. We are describing how the “new economy” is being created by “old economy” labor practices.
In Silicon Valley, even those on the assembly line know we are living in the high-tech epicenter of the world. The industries’ innovations and economic prowess are in the media every day. But the reality many young temporary workers in Silicon Valley knew from their experiences differed from the one reported on by the mainstream media. We were not creating dot-coms, owning stocks, or buying the million dollar homes we see on television or in the newspaper. Our Silicon Valley is about conveyer belts, sore backs, and bounced rent checks.
So what happens when the Silicon Valley that the mainstream media portray differs from the one you see through your lived experience? How do you relate to the world if you are not part of the one that is on television or in the papers? Are you still part of this world?
Without being able to locate their experiences in the “reported world,” theSilicon Valley DE-BUG editors found that many young people on the low-wage end of Silicon Valley had disengaged from the media. This, in turn, limited their knowledge of the world and their ability to critique and respond to it. Young workers in Silicon Valley were invisible and silent.
So our editors posed questions that emerged out of their ability to reflect on their experiences and out of their capacity to imagine. “How are you important to Silicon Valley?” “What would you say to the CEO of the company you clean circuit boards for?” “How has your perception of Silicon Valley changed since high school?”
The questions were first met with trepidation. These young workers were not used to having their opinions valued. Nor was critical thinking asked of them during their school or work experience. But after finding that their responses were respected, and seeing them in print, they became more comfortable with the process. And in time they, too, became writers.
After writing from personal experience, the topics of reporting expanded outward.
“How do you feel about the presidential elections?” “What do you think about public school?” “How will the dot-com fallout affect young temporary workers?” The way in which these stories were constructed required these writers to investigate the world around them and show how they related to it. As they did this, they reconnected with the news. And by considering the interplay of their lives and the news, our writers produced fresh insightful articles. They also proved that young people could create newsworthy ideas, thus transcending expectations placed on them as being merely low-wage laborers.
Our discussions were so engaging, we now have open weekly meetings for youth to come and talk about the issues of the day. The youth are examining their lives and relating them to stories they read in the newspaper. Out of these discussions, ideas for our stories emerge.
In order to communicate our stories to a broader audience, we are putting up a Web page. The irony is that even though the writers’ day jobs are to work in technology, none of us has very much knowledge about how to use it. Learning the skills of information technology is just another part of our tasks.
Silicon Valley DE-BUG is an important first step to improving the conditions of young temporary workers on the low-wage end of high tech. Youth working on the assembly line, who feel isolated in their experience, now have an outlet for their voices. Publishing our stories allows us to connect with each other and with those who should know of our stories. Most importantly, this process serves as a vehicle for youth who feel that they live on the margins in Silicon Valley. It gives them a way to engage with the world and events around them. For both young writers and readers, Silicon Valley DE-BUG has confirmed that the experiences, perspectives and voices of young temporary workers have significance. This is something the mainstream media have failed to do.
Raj Jayadev, 25, is a community organizer and writer residing in San Jose, California. He is the editor of Silicon Valley DE-BUG and a contributor to the Pacific News Service.