The dark side of Silicon Valley

California’s booming tech industry has created the most extreme wealth disparity in America. Josie Ensor investigates the tale of two cities

6:00AM GMT 26 Nov 2014

He settles himself in for what is going to be a long night – taking off his scuffed leather shoes and resting his head against a window opaque with condensation.

Jimmy, 47, has had the same routine for the last three years since losing his job as a chef at Microsoft.

He gets on the bus at midnight and rides the same 35-mile journey between San Jose and Palo Alto, California, until sunrise. He can spend up to $8 (£5) a night just trying to keep warm and off the streets – money he can ill afford.

The 22 bus is the only route that runs 24 hours in Silicon Valley and it has become something of an unofficial shelter for the homeless.

They call it Hotel 22.

A homeless man sleeps onboard bus route 22, known as Hotel 22

This small pocket of the Golden State has become the most extreme example in the US of the growing schism between the haves and have nots.

Santa Clara – the county which encompasses Silicon Valley – has the highest percentage of homeless in America, according to the latest Department of Housing report.

Yet it also has the nation’s highest average household income and some of the most expensive homes in the country – all down to the high-tech economy on its doorstep.

Silicon Valley is enjoying the most sustained period of wealth creation in history, but the area is crippled by income disparity. Where once a robust middle-class thrived, there exists only the super-rich and the extreme poor.

The 22 bus drives past Jimmy’s old employer Microsoft, as well as the headquarters of Google, Facebook and Apple.

On our journey, we pass a “Google bus” going in the opposite direction towards San Francisco. Employees are ferried to and from work in their own private blacked-out coaches dubbed “Gbuses”, which have themselves come to be a symbol of the inequality.

“It’s a tale of two cities,” Jimmy says. “At least that’s the poetic way people describe what’s going on here.

“What these techies don’t realise though is that we’re no different to them – they’re just one misstep, one paycheck away from being us.”

Jimmy, who moved from Chicago to California in the early 1990s for work, is wearing a slightly mottled suit and tie, as he does most days, in the hope it will help him find a job. He sends off a dozen applications a day from the local library, but he rarely even hears back.

He keeps a length of rope wrapped round his ankle, hidden under his trouser leg, “just in case one day I decide I’ve had enough.”

According to the most recent census data, as many as 20,000 people will experience homelessness in the county this year.

Protesters block a bus taking Apple employees to work in Silicon Valley in December 2013

Those who are not sleeping on the streets here are sleeping in what is known as The Jungle – the largest homeless encampment in the US. Hundreds of makeshift tents and treehouses go on for miles in a lawless sprawl.

Ray Bramson, the City of San Jose’s homelessness response manager, says: “There’s 5,000 sleeping rough on any given night – we just can’t deal with that.”

Over the last few years rent in the area has skyrocketed, in some cases up to 300 per cent of the national average.

“When you think homeless, you think of someone on the streets with no money, no job,” he says. “That’s changed. Being employed no longer guarantees you can afford to rent here. People simply lack the sustainable wages they need to survive.”

The state’s minimum wage was recently increased from $8 to $10 an hour. “It’s a step in the right direction,” Mr Bramson says, “but unfortunately the self-sufficiency standard is around $15.”

Our bus jolts to a stop as the driver spots someone waiting in the dark at the side of the road. It is now 2am. He lays down the ramp for the woman, who has a large cart full of her worldly belongings.

She is not the only woman, Sandra Pena spends one night a week on Hotel 22.

A well-spoken, well-educated and strikingly beautiful woman of 52, she is not the average night passenger.

Silicon Valley (ALAMY)

She spent nine years working as a technician for Arantech – which was at one time one of the bigger tech firms in Silicon Valley, until she was made redundant in 1989.

Shortly after, she decided to start up her own construction business, which enjoyed some success.

But at the height of the recession in 2009 she lost it all and had her home repossessed.

She started living out of her truck, doing odd job for neighbours, until she could no longer afford that either.

“I was hit by everything at once, and sometimes you just can’t pick yourself up from that,“ says Sandra, who is wearing pristine blue jeans and a button-down blouse. “Never, ever, would I have imagined myself in this situation.”

When there are no free beds at the local shelter, Sandra sleeps on the bus.

“I get the day pass for $6 – which if you buy at the right time can last you all through the night to the next morning,” she says. “I like it for the quiet …. and the alone time.

“The only downside is that you get woken up at the end of the line and are made to wait 15 minutes to get on the next one,” she says.

As a native of Santa Clara she has seen the area change beyond recognition.

Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino

It was once known for its orchids, earning it the nickname the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Until the 1960s, it was the largest fruit production region in the world and Del Monte was the biggest employer in town.

Then the tech companies started moving in, growing outward from Stanford University, which had begun nurturing start-ups with grants and academic support.

“Growing up here it was all ranches and orchids, I was a cowgirl. You had everything you could want, and great weather all year round. I don’t blame them all for coming here, but they offer the people who live here nothing,” says Sandra, who is currently completing a building course at an employment centre, which she hopes will lead to a job.

Chris Richardson, director of programme operations at the homeless organisation Downtown Streets, which has been helping Sandra, said: “Hotel 22 is an open secret in the homeless trade – for a couple of bucks people can get a relatively undisturbed night’s sleep.”

He says the problem has become so out of control there are twice as many homeless as there are available beds.

“You see camps of people sleeping rough just two miles from Sergey Brin’s (Google co-founder) house,” he says. “And the irony is, not even his engineers get paid enough to live here.

“We are trying to get tech billionaires involved in what we’re doing. They donate millions to good causes, but almost nothing to the local community they are helping destroy.

“It’s not necessarily their fault, but they are stakeholders in the homelessness problem and have the power and brains to change it.”

Eileen Richardson, Downtown Street’s founder, is a venture capitalist and former tech CEO herself, previously heading up the online music site Napster. She volunteered with the homeless on a sabbatical leave 10 years ago and was so shocked by what she saw she started up her own organisation to help.

At their weekly meeting, the team leader makes an announcement to the some-100 guests gathered – Google is hiring. The company is holding a jobs fair in a few weeks’ time and they are looking for chefs, cooks and cleaners.

Some groan, but most are keenly listening and a group stay behind after to sign up. In desperate times you cannot be too proud to “make a deal with the devil”, one guest says.

Original source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11249291/The-dark-side-of-Silicon-Valley.html

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Collective ethnographic experiment in inner city Amsterdam

Research Network on Qualitative Research (RN20) to organize a ethnographic experiment (based on Mass-Observation project) during the next ESA midterm conference and by the own conference participants. It seems to me a great idea! The observation will focus on diversity performances in inner city Amsterdam. Really, I see this methodology as applicable to other conferences. Here I paste what it’s said in the conference site:

At this conference, we want to invite you to participate in an ethnographic experiment. We will do focused observations and analyze the observations online and offline with conference participants. The theme of the observations will be diversity performances in inner city Amsterdam. Our experiment builds on Mass Observation, as it was established in the UK in the nineteen thirties, on focused ethnography and on methods for online analysis of qualitative material. We are particularly curious if collaborative online interpretation is possible. We are very excited about this experiment and hope you will join.

More specifically, the conference program contains the following Mass Observation Experiment parts:

Before coming to Amsterdam

  •  We will sent you information on how to install software or get access to online tool for gathering and analyzing observation.

First day

  • Lecture by Susie Scott on Mass Observation.
  • Lecture by Jan Willem Duyvendak on diversity in Amsterdam.
  • Introduction to the experiment itself by Christian Bröer
  • Observing diversity performances

Second day

  • Enter observations into a collective project
  • Analyze observations online

Third day

  • Analyze observations online and offline
  • Discuss outcomes collectively

During the whole experiment, technical and non-technical support will be available. If you have questions or suggestions please contact Christian Bröer at c.broer@uva.nl.

Mass-observation project

Mass-Observation was a United Kingdom social research organisation founded in 1937. Their work ended in the mid-1960s but was revived in 1981. The Archive is housed at the University of Sussex.

Mass-Observation aimed to record everyday life in Britain through a panel of untrained volunteer observers who either maintained diaries or replied to open-ended questionnaires (known as directives). They also paid investigators to anonymously record people’s conversation and behaviour at work, on the street and at various public occasions including public meetings and sporting and religious events.

Three young men, part of a small group of like-minded friends, are credited with establishing Mass Observation. The origins resulted from a strange coincidence.

Early in 1937, Harrisson’s one and only published poem appeared in the New Statesman on the same page as a letter from Madge and Jennings, in which they outlined their London-based project to encourage a national panel of volunteers to reply to regular questionnaires on a variety of matters. Interested by the similarity in aims to his own current anthropological study of the British, Harrisson contacted Madge and Jennings.

Within the space of a month, the two projects, related in their ideals, although different in the techniques they employed to gather information, joined together under the title of Mass Observation. Their aim, stated in a further letter to the New Statesman, was to create an “anthropology of ourselves” – a study of the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain.

Harrisson and a team of observers continued their study of life and people in Bolton (the Worktown Project), while Madge remained in London to organise the writing of the volunteer panel.

In Bolton, a team of paid investigators went into a variety of public situations: meetings, religious occasions, sporting and leisure activities, in the street and at work, and recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible. The material they produced is a varied documentary account of life in Britain.

The National Panel of Diarists was composed of people from all over Britain who either kept diaries or replied to regular open-ended questionnaires sent to them by the central team of Mass-Observers.

Although Jennings and then Madge moved on, Mass Observation continued to operate throughout the Second World War and into the early 1950s, producing a series of books about their work as well as thousands of reports. Gradually the emphasis shifted away from social issues towards consumer behaviour.

Further info here

 

Social Media in Social Research 2014 – 4th annual conference

New Picture (34)

The SRA is pleased to announce the 4th annual conference on Social Media in Social Research. This one-day event at the British Library in central London will feature these presentations:

  • Uninformed consent and social media research.  Dan Nunan, Henley Business School. In social media research, is informed consent possible without limiting access to the most valuable data? Do we rely on a set of ethical norms that are outdated in the internet era, and are there alternative and more effective approaches to consent?
  • Using social network analysis for social media in social research.  Dhiraj Murthy, Goldsmiths, University of London. This presentation will explore the use of mixed-method Social Network Analysis (SNA) to interpret social media in social research contexts. Methods of visualization will be discussed using Twitter and other social media data.
  • The Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory: a progress report.  Rob Procter, University of Warwick. Rob will outline the main features of the Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory (COSMOS) and demonstrate their application through examples of current research by the COSMOS team. He will also give a brief overview of development plans.
  • The ESRC’s social media agenda.  Samantha McGregor, ESRC. This presentation will outline the ESRC’s current thinking and future plans for social media data and research. This will also be an interactive session, with delegates encouraged to ask questions and discuss future priorities.
  • A social media case study – Facebook and Scottish independence.  Preriit Souda and Alastair Graham, TNS BMRB. An analysis and graphical representation of the thousands of conversations and influencers of the two campaigns in the Scottish Independence debate, together with results of opinion polling on voting intentions and attitudes, relating these to the Facebook analysis.
  • The social media challenge within the Food Standards Agency.Dr Joanna Disson and James Baker, FSA. The FSA’s communications and social science teams  are working together on the opportunities presented by social media. Where does communication end and research begin? When does ‘insight’ become ‘data’ and are the right skills in place to enter this new territory?
  • Analysing digital activism: The use of multi-layered digital ethnography in the social sciences.  Suay Ozkula, University of Kent. A case study of digital activism based on research with Amnesty International, using online and offline ethnographic observation, and short-term and long-term social media monitoring, as well as interviews with Amnesty staff and online participants.

Panel discussion: The future of social media research

Date: May 1, 2014

Start Time: 10:30 am

End Time: 4:30 pm

Price: £105.00

Further details: http://the-sra.org.uk/event-registration/?ee=151