Think of it as evolution in action

Those who read SciFi in the ’80s will know that one.

The rest can wait for illumination.

Yesterday’s Observer had a combative piece by Rory Carroll:

How wealth of Silicon Valley’s tech elite created a world apart

Private shuttles taking workers to and from Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter in San Francisco are becoming symbols for alienation and division as residents struggle with crowded municipal bus services and poor facilities

Its opener is:

Every morning and every evening the fleet glides through the city, hundreds of white buses with tinted windows navigating San Francisco‘s rush hour. From the pavement you can see your reflection in the windows, but you can’t see in. The buses have no markings or logos, no advertised destinations or stops.

It doesn’t matter. Everyone knows what they are. “Transport for a breed apart. For a community that is separate but not equal,” said Diamond Dave Whitaker, a self-professed beat poet and rabble-rouser.

The buses ferry workers to and from Apple, Facebook, Google and other companies in Silicon Valley, an hour’s drive south. They hum with air-conditioning and Wi-Fi. They are for the tech elite, and only the tech elite.

This month Whitaker, 75, and a few dozen other activists smashed a model Google bus piñata to pieces. They cheered each blow. The British and US governments may feel the same way, it emerged last week, when politicians in London and Washington accused Google’s Eric Schmidt and Apple’s Tim Cook of dodging corporate taxes.

The internet titans barely flinched. They denied wrongdoing and hit back at what they said were archaic tax codes unfit for the digital era. The defiance startled those unfamiliar with Silicon Valley’s power and confidence.

It did not come as news to San Francisco. The city knows better than anyone that technology companies like having things their way, whether it be taxes, transport or lifestyle. This dominance, critics say, has produced a cossetted caste which lords it over everyone else, a pattern established during the dotcom explosion a decade ago and now repeated amid a roaring boom.

To add a bit of spice we also got the Commentary by Robert B Reich, Bill Clinton’s Labour secretary:

Why should Apple have access to consumers if it refuses to pay its fair share of taxes?

Countries are competing to provide the biggest tax breaks, the cheapest labour and the easiest regulation to attract the likes of Google, Apple and Amazon, to the disadvantage of their own citizens.

Et cetera. Et cetera. As a previous autocrat would say.

It’s like déjà vu all over again

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, Uncle Malcolm had to spend the odd hour or so each way, each day, commuting across north London. Thanks to the Wicked Witch of Finchley, who believed those who travelled by public transport deserved all they got, that one hour could extend to two or three. The only up-side was that the waiting and the delays made ample time for cheap reads.

140One of which was Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle: Oath of Fealty.

The conceit is Todos Santos, a huge “arcology” adjacent to Los Angeles — and no relation to the small town at the tip of Baja California. Being Niven and Pournelle, the message is a long way from ultra-liberal. What they did here was to extrapolate the decent notions of (the recently-deceased) Paolo Soleri, who aimed to establish communities where architecture and ecology merged. And very nice, too.

In Oath of Fealty, Todos Santos also integrates what was, at the time of publication in 1981, all kinds of technologies (communication, surveillance, monitoring, defence …) which were only just envisaged. It is a bastion of security in a surrounded by dystopia. Its inhabitants sacrifice individuality and independence for a fortress of safety.

The punch-line is that Todos Santos declares itself sovereign, with no ties to the outside community.

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Filed under broken society, History, Observer, reading, United States

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