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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 9 page 21


You may have heard about the flare-ups over the Google bus. To some people’s minds the matter is still not resolved. The protestors out on the streets of San Francisco waving placards and blocking the buses insisted they were not opposed to the buses qua buses. Their real objection was that the G-bus service encourages gentrification: in neighborhoods near the G-bus stops, landlords embark on a renovation binge, rents climb, tekkies making 80-100K move in, low-income tenants get pushed out. Pushed out to where? The East Bay, East Palo Alto, who cares?

Around where I live, a few steps from Lafayette Park, the rents are up 25% in five years, way ahead of general inflation, and to tell the truth you can scarcely find a place around here anymore.

Google motor coach in San Franciso
G-bus = social symbol

San Francisco, quoth Andrew Keen, is becoming a city for the 1%. In that sense, the protests really were about the buses — qua social symbols. Imagine: you’re a working stiff standing waiting for the local trolley and instead what pulls up in front of your face is this fatcat intercity motorcoach and then a half dozen tekkies step past you and climb aboard, thumbing their smartphones all the while. Dopamine addicts, obviously, but they’re the chosen ones. The rest of us are nothing. That’s how you feel. They sit high above, behind tinted windows, seeing everyone without being seen themselves. Perfect!

To be fair, Google has no control over housing issues — yet. Still, the company felt the heat. It ended up donating $6.8 million to the city for free transit for poor kids. Plus, Google and the other companies now have to pay a fee to use the city bus stops. That’s right, Google (2014 revenue $66 billion, I'll say again) was using the bus stops for free.

The disproportion between the 1% and the 99% has been growing since before the internet, and probably will continue to grow since as far as I can tell no one is lifting a finger to stop it. Silicon Valley does its damnedest to help the gap grow. The new internet economy, says Keen, is “a top-down system that is concentrating wealth instead of spreading it.”

Look how the likes of Airbnb and Indiegogo ‘disintermediate’ the white-collar folk who used to manage our travel and investment arrangements. At the same time, the blue-collar jobs are going to be delegated to robots. So what will we be left with? — I mean, those of us who are not gifted enough to be entrepreneurial robot-masters? We’ll just have to keep on our toes, that's all. It will be a TaskRabbit world where each of us is self-promoting like crazy, trying to string together enough two-bit gigs to pay some outrageous rent. When the Übermensch wants someone to stand in the overnight line at the Apple store for him, you’ll want to be first to click on that opportunity.