I'm back to the future.

Yeah, I know, a cliché -- but it really captures how I feel. I was a columnist at this paper at a time when MySpace was the reigning social network, YouTube seemed mostly a home for goofy cat videos and Facebook was an intriguing startup in Palo Alto. That was, incredibly enough, just seven years ago.

There was no iPhone. No iPad. The smartest device was a BlackBerry. Wi-Fi access was not considered a basic human need like shelter. Twitter had just been born.

Silicon Valley was reinventing the future during my first stint -- and it's reinventing the future now.

The place feels different: There is a swagger. Tech boosters don't have to bray that the industry is changing the world. Everyone knows, because it really is. The entrepreneur has become the national mascot -- and it is easier than ever to start a business. Even the smallest startups have a global strategy. More women, although far, far too slowly, are taking on key leadership roles.

And, in a trend that could have profound implications for government and policy, tech moguls are no longer demurring from taking on a bigger public role as they once did. The industry's leaders are writing books, giving speeches, writing checks to political campaigns and heading to Washington to influence policy.

But while much has changed, much has not.

The tech industry is still a mixture of real businesses and wild-eyed entrepreneurs throwing together teams and betting on their ideas. There are take-charge MBAs and seasoned hands, as well as crazy coding dreamers still hoping to make something that matters and get rich in the process.

I see this column as a conversation. I'll bring insight and analysis about the big news, and point out the big news that is being overlooked. But as I give you my two cents, I welcome yours.

And here's my take on the new valley: The swagger and confidence are great, because they are the fuel that leads passionate entrepreneurs to create the Next Big Thing.

But they need to be balanced with more transparency, for both investors and users. Sure, reporters like me get frustrated when the boardroom doors close and you're left begging the person looking in the keyhole to dish.

But I'd argue that the more tech companies talk, even at the risk of embarrassing themselves, the better for all. Google (GOOG), Apple (AAPL), Facebook and many others are the new fourth estate, a societal and political force that is influencing everything we do, and with that comes a responsibility to be more open about what they do.

I also worry that the culture here has turned perfectionist, and its citizens may have a distorted sense that smarts and hard work -- forget about luck -- make success. We live in the most dynamic region in one of the most blessed states in the most stable democracy in the world. You did build it, to contradict the president during the last campaign, but you also had help.

In the coming weeks, I'll write about the rising tech political movement and whether the tech industry can deliver the bacon on immigration reform. My column will tackle the fear that we are in a bubble (it's a boom, for sure, not a bubble, I'll argue). And, as the government and the tech industry battle over the government's surveillance programs, I'll push the companies to be even more aggressive.

But as I begin, there is Twitter's IPO.

When and whether Twitter will turn a profit will now be the worry of many shareholders. How it will attract new users and figure out how to get them to use the service will be the firm's critical challenge in coming months.

But for today, the IPO is a celebration, a confirmation that Twitter, and the entire social media sector, is not just a pipe dream cooked up in a Harvard dorm. Its debut on Wall Street shows the viability of new "platforms," which is just a fancy way of describing the online place where many of us live.

Make no mistake: Those who tweet or just lurk on Twitter helped create the momentum behind the share price today. Raise a digital Champagne glass to yourself.

Contact Michelle Quinn at 510-394-4196 and mquinn@mercurynews.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/michellequinn.