Sunday, June 18, 2006

IT and the Community

One of my primary concerns in making Community Color is the relation between the internet and the local community. Even before the Internet, I had noticed the IT Industry developing a tendency to separate its workers from the community. Living in the Silicon Valley during the first stages of the tech boom, I noticed computer companies developing corporate and architectural styles to separate their work force from the community. Community is just a distraction from the 18 hour work days demanded in IT.

The isolation of Silicon Valley workers contrasts to the hyper socialization that takes place in San Francisco just to the north.

Altius BuildingIntentional efforts to isolate workers from the community reach extremes in the Salt Lake Valley. I worked for several years at an office tower in Draper. The office was three miles from the nearest restaurant or store. It was surrounded by parking lots and major roads. While the office was comfortable, the urban design of the area was set to simply isolate the people in the complex from community. Just before I went to the blogger's conference, I stopped and snapped a picture of the Altius building in South Jordan. It is just a big black building positioned so that workers have no destractions from the community around them. The workers will toil away, never seeing any of the other people building the community. Both Warren Jeffs and corporate American know that people become more pliable when you isolate them.

There are similar facilities peppering the Salt Lake Valley. For some forgotten reason, I rode my bike out to the Lake Park Office facility in West Valley City. I could not find a road between the community and the office park. Workers at the Discover Card call center, IHC and other information related businesses were hermetically sealed from the community.

The first stage of the tech boom seemed to be accelerating this mania of isolating people from their community. The corporate rush was to develop the big nationwide website that would dominate a sector of the market. The ideal internet firm was a windowless box in a sea of black top parking lots.

While the isolated towers of the suburbs have grown, we've seen the population of urban centers like Salt Lake and Ogden shrink. The primary cause of this is the excessively restrictive zoning of Salt Lake. My heart breaks each year seeing the little independent stores in Salt Lake proper board up their windows as the population of the SLC proper shrinks, while the isolated expanses of the burbs grow.

The reason I started making community directories and photographing towns was to understand the town. It is odd. I built a directory for Salt Lake City not because I had any special affinity for or knowledge about the area. I built the directory because I had spent some 30 odd years here feeling like a paria.

Knowing for a fact that I would receive zero community support for the effort, the sites uses mass affiliation (the ultimate anonymous business relations) to fund the site.

(This post is getting long so I will continue my rant in the next post)

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