I was invited to give a talk at Google headquarters down in Mountain View last Tuesday. They sent somebody to fetch me (in a hybrid car, zowee!) from my hotel in San Francisco -- as if I had any choice about catching a train down, right? Google HQ was a glass office park pod tucked into an inscrutable tangle of off-ramps, berms, manzanita clumps, and curb-cuts. But inside, it was all tricked out like a kindergarten. They had pool tables, and inflatable yoga balls, and $6000 electronic vibrating massage lounge chairs, and snack stations deployed at twenty-five step intervals, with lucite bins filled with chocolate raisins and granola. The employees dressed like children. There were two motifs: "skateboard rat" and "10th grade nerd." I suppose quite a few of them were millionaires. Many of the work cubicles were literally modular children's playhouses. I gave my spiel about the global oil problem and the unlikelihood that "alternative energy" would even fractionally replace it, and quite a few of the Googlers became incensed.
"Yo, Dude, you're so, like, wrong! We've got, like, technology!"
Yeah, well, they weren't interested in making a distinction between energy and technology...
It is hardly necessary for me to link to Kunstler at this point, but I couldn't resist. Judging from the book flap in The Long Emergency, he's grown a beard and thus lacks only a sign and a corner to stand on. After a recent book tour, he became filled with a furious apocalyptic anger, and the dark side of the force flowed. And that means good writin'! Go check it out.
For those of you who don't work in software, his description of Google is spot on. Whoever invited Kunstler to Google is likely to find their classic Stars Wars action figures hanging by the neck from the coffee maker tomorrow. I would add that that particular workplace motif is in general decline, as the ebullience of the roaring nineties fades. Google must prop up the kindergarden lifestyle (juice and naps for employees, which we grownups call "massages") because they have a mythology to uphold, just like Microsoft will never stop giving out free soda and popcorn to its employees.
But further, I think one of the key realizations that Kunstler astutely makes here, and in his books, is that those of us who grew up in a technology saturated environment have great difficulty separating energy from same. The day is coming when everyone will be able to discern the difference between technology that is powered by energy, and technology which produces energy. Meanwhile, energy has actually been quite invisible in polite society; who among us would start talking light sweet crude at a party?
Not I, not yet. Now excuse me, I need to throw my Atari t-shirt in the wash and go find my yoga ball.