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Google and Me

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IMG_1531A while back I learned that Google and I arrived in Mountain View at the same time. I think it’s fair to say Google had a bigger impact on the city than I have.

Mountain View was no stranger to large employers. It was the birthplace of the semiconductor and many of the pioneering and legendary companies that manufactured them. Just North of Middlefield you can see their names memorialized in street signs – you should also steer clear of the ground water. On Middlefield the lot that was home to the Wagon Wheel, the saloon that entertained and inspired many a young engineer, still sits empty.

In fact, the Wagon Wheel closed not long after I (and Google it turns out) got to town. The end of an era in more ways than one. Sixteen years ago, every tilt up building on Middlefield from Whisman to the city limits had a NetScape logo in the front of it. My neighbors were all greying electrical or mechanical engineers.

But Google turned out not to be just any other tech company. It grew in an unprecedented way to, for all intents and purposes, envelop the town it calls home. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s reasonable to be suspicious of a company that feels its motto needs to be “don’t be evil.” I don’t know about you, but I would like to think that sentiment should be axiomatic.

At first I didn’t really notice Google’s presence. It was a company on the other side of the freeway. It rarely affected my life. But that started to change until to the point that it not only affected my life, but it kind of impacted everything I did. The first sign was the free wi-fi. I’m of the school that you don’t get anything for free, so I looked upon all free wi-fi with suspicion. And my large financial consulting employer discouraged the use of any wi-fi in those early days.

Then a couple of years later there was the invasion of the white buses. Plying the back streets near the freeway entrances and exits, their number grew to rival any municipal transit district. Despite their ominous alien-invader appearance, I was okay with the buses. And about the same time a neighbor pointed out that thanks to the Google daycare at the old Slater School around the corner, our home values had taken quite a leap. So I even came to like the buses. More people who would eventually have children and want to live closer to work.

I think it was the bikes that got to me. More than the Google cars that were ever-present on Middlefield or Shoreline, it was the bikes appearing on my side of the Bayshore that got me annoyed. The brightly colored commuter bikes are provided to Googlers who are making their way across its sprawling campus. But they started showing up in random piles outside of the Safeway or laying on the ground at every other intersection. I started to feel like my existence was just a nuisance to the chosen people of Google.

Then the city announced that it was launching a free shuttle service for residents thanks to Google’s generous support. Now I’ve spent enough time in the PR business to know a little strategic philanthropy when I see it. I felt like a potentially hostile native that was being placated with colorful beads.

But the final straw was an article about the next-gen driverless cars that were much smaller than the SUVs and would make their way along secondary streets to see how the vehicles would interact with the population.

I realized that Mountain View is just one big lab space to Google and we who live there are their lab rats. It’s unnerving to have a secretive neighbor, and especially one who seems to be getting rich off of info about me that I am sharing either willingly by using their search engine, or unwillingly by being stalked by the Google cars.