Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Segregation Of Tech Workers Leads To Mistrust And Conflict

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 8, 2014

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Above, a newspaper on a San Francisco street.

Google has responded to protests about its large fleet of buses clogging city streets with plans to use a high speed ferry service for its employees in San Francisco. And city administrators hope to alleviate some complains by charging for the use of bus zones.

Google, and other companies using San Francisco bus zones to pick up workers, will pay $1 per day per bus stop. About $1m a year will be generated but this will not provide extra city funds for anything other than enforcement and administration of the program. 

Jessica Kwong at the SF Examiner reports

Set to go before the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors Jan. 21, the proposal would allow the shuttles to use 200 of the more than 2,500 Muni stops for $1 per stop per day. Each commuter shuttle would be issued a unique identification placard and be expected to provide data for evaluation. An existing fine of $270 for using a Muni stop in violation would become easier to enforce under the pilot.

Google is hoping to improve its public image by using a high speed ferry reports Cole Chapman at SFChronicle:

Google has contracted a catamaran ferry to transport its workers from San Francisco to Redwood City, which is approximately 11 miles north of the Google headquarters in Mountain View, CBS’s KPIX 5 reports.

“We certainly don’t want to cause any inconvenience to SF residents and we’re trying alternative ways to get Googlers to work,” said Google in a statement provided to Re/code.

However, a comment on the ferry story by Ryan74 pointed out a bug in Google’s plans: ”How will the Google employees get to the water?”

Foremski’s Take: It’s Google’s all enveloping arms that are at the root of conflict in neighboring communities because local residents don’t know the Googlers living among them.

The massive white busses look sinister with their blacked-out windows and no identifiable markings (unlike Genentech buses). Workers are picked up early in the morning and dropped off late in the evening and during the day they are kept within the company’s campus.

Google has chosen to create a parallel world where there is very little contact between their workers and their neighbors.

And the tech companies compete with local small business by providing their engineers with everything they need: food, laundry, dentists, even apartment cleaning. 

For small businesses living in the shadow of the Googleplex it is daily struggle to stay afloat. And as the search giant expands into large office complexes in downtown Mountain View and Palo Alto, it will impact even greater numbers of small businesses. It’s an issue that will accelerate and worsen. 

Segregated and strange…

The more we know about each other the less strange we will seem to each other — and that reduces conflict. The thin veneer of interaction between the inner world of Google and the real world outside creates conditions for mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. 

It’s not a smart strategy for the tech companies. How are their workers going to come up with original ideas  if they have such minimal experience of a world that the majority experience daily?

Inspiration has many muses but they are rarely found within a work cubicle.

If I were in charge, I’d close the canteens and garage the shuttle buses for one day a week and force my workers to figure out how to feed themselves and make it into work on time.  

A giant consumer services company such as Google should ensure its engineers have a good understanding of the common experience. Strangely, it chooses to segregate them as much as possible.

The burden of tech

And what is the point of attracting tech companies to communities if they demand tax concessions and then seek to compete with local service businesses, threatening hundreds of jobs?

Through its hard won tax concessions, Twitter would rather be a burden on its neighbors than ease the burden of others. Its HQ is in one of the poorest urban districts in the entire nation.

San Francisco and Silicon Valley area cities suffer from the same issues as all other cities across the US. Our public schools have 50% drop-out rates.

Why aren’t our schools transformed into showcases of education? Why aren’t our communities thriving and healthy because of all the tech companies and visionaries in our midst? This is the reason there is a backlash against Silicon Valley.

If tech companies are unable to improve their own neighborhoods, then all of their hot air about creating a fabulous future is nothing more than a stinking halitosis of hypocrisy. 

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Please see: 

The Not So Sunny Side Of Twitter Street...

Silicon Valley Neighborhoods: Google's Free Food Hurting Local Businesses

Fortune Asks 'Why Does America Hate Silicon Valley?'

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