The author who has best traced the pre-Hewlett-Packard origins of Silicon Valley (in her biography of the photographer and inventor Eadweard Muybridge), Rebecca Solnit was also among the first to cast the Google bus as a symbol of disparity and discontent in the San Francisco Bay Area. Writing a year ago, she described the big, luxury coaches that ferry employees from San Francisco and Oakland south to Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as “gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.”
Today, Solnit’s cheeky and dyspeptic essay appears prescient. The Google bus, which stands in for all the similar private coach services contracted to Apple, Facebook, Yahoo!, et al., has emerged as a flashpoint, with fairly regular protest blockades. The companies’ “secret bus routes” have been mapped. There’ve been frequent bursts of outrage (and mock outrage) over the “tone-deaf arrogance” of tech workers. There’ve been a number of troubling evictions in a competitive housing market responding to tech wealth. And there’s broader concern that the search engines and social media upon which millions rely have become tools for U.S. government spying, further undermining trust in tech corporations as good citizens.