Friday, June 19, 2009


A little part of me died as I handed over the packet of Parmesan Pita chips to the panhandler on the A-train ("My name's Homeless Jo, but you can call me Homeless"). I'd been hoping to pull something else out of my Mary Poppins bag, like the "gently caffeinated" green tea energy drink, or the packet of wholewheat, sugar-free cookies some bright-eyed health nut had been pushing at the Vital Juice expo, earlier that afternoon. With those pita chips went my last little piece of Google swag. And it's not like I even had a chance to get my hands on their rank of scooters...

At 6.30 yesterday I presented my passport (old one, edges cut off, photograph that looks like a more saintly version of my younger self)and was admitted to Google HQ in the meatpacking district. It all looked pretty normal until we reached the fourth floor, and then I saw that all the rumours had indeed been true. Like a yuppie version of Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory, it was a white-walled wonderland of performative creativity. Whiteboards in the corridors were scrawled with in-jokes and blue sky thinking. Instead of desks there was a games room, with foosball and pool. Instead of a coffee pot and water cooler there was a kitchen stocked with m&ms and gummi bears and boiled eggs. Instead of swivelly chairs there were yoga balls. There was a man-sized ballpool, atari computer games, coaches you could make-out on. To be honest, it looked so much fun that I wouldn't be surprised if you had to pay to work there. This is, after all, New York: the spiritual home of the year-long, unpaid internship, which you have to fight a Battle Royale and sleep your way around the middle management to secure.

Being there made me think of Scarlett Thomas' brilliant novel PopCo, which is set in a cooler than thou toy company, and features the most subversive group of vegans you're ever likely to come across. It made we wonder if Google has its own group of gummi-bear refusers, ready to subvert the company from the inside. Are there employees who deliberately design bad Fourth of July illustrations or make sure that when you search for "sweet little kittens" you get directed to Viagra sites? Or is the rebellion subtler than that? Are there a band of non-conformist Googlers (Nooglers, perhaps?)who scorn the Lego room and refuse to hot desk? Do they bite their collective thumbs at the dress-down ethos and and warehouse parties come in Armani-clad and shoe-shone, pigheadedly making cabbing it up to Midtown after work to hang out with the other suits?

Vive la difference.

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