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Googlebus battlebus

Neil Kay, Professorial Fellow

Faculty Blog

Those of us of a certain age will remember fondly the old days when San Francisco and Berkeley were known for their protests.  People would stick a flower in their hair, come to San Francisco and protest, often about what could be abstract but important ideas such as free speech, discrimination,  political affiliations.


WARNING: TWO-TIER SYSTEM (Photo credit: cjmartin)

I am presently working on the campus at Berkeley near where a lot of these demonstrations and marches took place, and once again the media is reporting that the air is filled with the sound of protest.   Many San Franciscans are unhappy about a bus.

A bus?

Buses are one of the most environmentally friendly modes of transport  you could name.   And the bus - or rather buses -  in question are Google buses, put on by the company to transport its workers from where they live in San Francisco and its environs to work.  Google famously had a slogan "don't be evil" and in many respects they may be seen as having done as much as any other institution to actually promote the free and widespread dissemination of information that Sixties hippies aspired to and advocated. Indeed, if you really want to find out about Google buses, just Google Google buses (if you see what I mean).  Google searches then helpfully reveal all the evil things people are alleging Google is doing (talk about helping mount the case for your own prosecution!)  So what is going on?

It is not so much a culture clash as a financial crunch between settled and often long-time San Franciscan Bay residents who complain by they are being crowded out of their neighbourhoods by high-earning Silicon Valley IT employees.  Google and its Google buses are just a visible manifestation of a much wider phenomenon that some have blamed, whether entirely fairly or not,  for soaring rents and for what  they claim is a process of gentrification and homogenisation of what had been mixed and diverse neighbourhoods.

The irony is that many these embattled IT workers who are now being targeted along with their employers are young, left-leaning and liberal, and have great difficulty in seeing themselves as the villains in this piece, or indeed in knowing how they should respond.

So how will this all end?  Time - and more Google Google bus searches - will tell.