06 Oct 2018

Office Perqs are a Trap

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Simone Stolzoff visits Facebook and concludes that cushy office perks Silicon-Valley-style are a trap.

I was there to see the headquarters of one of the most influential technology companies in the world, and it looked like a Lego fortress. The campus was all primary colors and serrated edges, as if cut from card stock for an elementary-school bulletin board.

Street art hung from the walls. Bicycles and scooters were strewn like forgotten toys. The corporate name was decapitalized. (Something about trying to be cool.)

“We repurposed the sign from the old Sun Microsystems campus,” my greeter said when she met me at the campus’ entrance. “We leave it as a reminder to stay motivated.”

As we walked past the iconic thumbs up on the front of the sign, I turned around to see the faded “Sun” on the back of it.

“Welcome to Facebook.”

For a company built on openness and connectivity, the office felt like the walled garden Facebook itself has become. My greeter walked me to one of the complex’s main arteries from Hacker Way toward Main Street. “The campus was designed to be a cross between Disneyland and downtown Palo Alto.” I could tell. Thousands of employees filled the streets of Facebook’s downtown area, a Main Street USA in a Magic Kingdom partial to hoodies and t-shirts.

There was a barbershop, a dental office, a bike shop.

If I worked here, I would never have to leave.

The gilded offices of Silicon Valley have both the amenities and exclusivity of a country club. The need to keep the outside world locked out is understandable—tourists come from halfway around the world just to take pictures from Google’s driveway—but I worry that the locks go both ways.

“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity, and history,” wrote media theorist Neil Postman. “As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

The office is also a technology, a tool used to help get work done. And though there is something special about a workplace where you can get your dry-cleaning done between meetings, the blurring of work and not work can also veer toward oppression.

There’s no such thing as a free cupcake, as Robert A. Heinlein could have told you. All the good stuff in corporate headquarters is there to make you not want to leave, so that you’ll happily put in all sorts of unpaid overtime.

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