June 18, 2019

Tech Billionaires Take On Urban Planning

“For a long time, the titans of tech — Facebook, Google, Amazon — were difficult to locate. Sure, we knew they each had an address. We’d seen the One Hacker Way sign on Instagram. We were fairly certain actual people worked there. But until a few years ago tech companies felt a bit ephemeral. They existed, to a large extent, in our imaginations. The world they commanded seemed immaterial, a place of clouds, bytes, and weightless “experiences.”

The stories we tell about digital technology are partly to blame for this fuzziness. Look no further than the cyberspace montage — a cinematic staple of alternating streams of neon code overlaid onto fast cuts of poorly lit hackers pawing at their keyboards — for evidence of our inability to imagine the spaces and places created and occupied by tech companies.

But tech companies have also been happy to leave us to our fantastical notions. Despite their friendly branding, Google, Facebook, Apple, and others like them are intensely secretive. Tech campuses are often closed, their public-facing architecture monolithic. Supply chains are proprietary, horizontal, and highly globalized. Many of the people necessary for modern tech’s core functionality are hidden or not counted as official employees, while nondisclosure agreements are de rigueur. Data centers are located in out-of-the-way places, often housed in old military bunkers or nondescript warehouses and, as the Washington Post recently reported, many are owned by shell corporations.”

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