Tech Capitalism

Don Draper sees the future...and he's not part of it.
Don Draper sees the future…and he’s not part of it.

I had a chance to interview a very bright young man for the “Truthout Interivews” series I host for the news and opinion site, Truthout. We were talking about gentrification in San Francisco, how people are being pushed out of the cities to the suburbs and why the Bay Area will soon resemble European cities that have a kind of core/periphery thing going on. That is to say, in the city’s core is populated with the wealthy and upwardly mobile, while the poor, middle, and working classes are pushed to the outer rungs of the periphery.

It got me thinking about established tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter and the way they coddle and encase their employees in bubbles of comfort — while the “outside” world rots. This is nothing new, or revolutionary, but the model of gated-communities protecting “us” from “them” is something that tech companies (well, the rich ones) socialize their employees to accept as the way things ought to be.

That mentality spills over into the larger society and, in the case of the Bay Area, you have the culture of tech capitalism starting to remake the area into the kind of bubble that used to be enjoyed only in the confines of a private company. Now public spaces (with a willing group of politicians) are being gentrified in a way that kinda sorta mirrors the bubble tech workers live in.

So, what is tech capitalism? It’s just a term I latched on to when I was interviewing my guest on the show. After reading his article, I started to see that gentrification is both the cultural and economic expression of tech culture. That is to say, tech capitalist seem to have the following characteristics:

  • Relatively small work forces.
  • Highly specialized workers who have knowledge-product that is achievable by a select few.
  • Create products and services that are designed to reap information from people for free and sell that information to advertisers.
  • They construct spaces that are Utopian islands free from want, outside threats, and full of wealth.

It’s that last part — the Utopian island — that becomes a model used to displace whole communities in city neighborhoods. So instead of the Googleplex being a small island, the Bay Area (with San Francisco being the epicenter) becomes a big island where those Utopian/dystopian dreams can be implemented.

It’s already happening. Just look at the growing outer rungs of poverty in Antioch, Vallejo, Tracy, Pittsburg, Richmond and the like…The massive foreclosures that took place in 2008-2009 were concentrated in these places. These are cities where many working-class and lower income people move to from the high rent places like San Francisco, the South Bay and Oakland. Rents are soaring in “the bubble,” evictions are up, and you need a minimum of $100,000 to live there. If this process continues — and let’s just say that’s California does get split up into 6 states — the Bay Area will truly be Silicon Valley.

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