More Buses

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The Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte once painted a picture of a pipe and then wrote below it, "This is not a pipe." He called the painting "The Treachery of Images" and it illustrates, in the most direct manner possible, that an image is not the same thing as what it portrays.

But in our political debates we are not so careful about this distinction. Things become symbols and we use images to make our point. And so it is with what are now known as the Google buses. Their digital destination signs should read, "This is not a bus," because they have come to represent so many other things.

Many people see these buses as changing residency in San Francisco into a competition that is destroying the city's character and what remains of its affordability. But a bus is only something that moves people from one place to another. They go in both directions. And so I would like to see even more buses.

I want buses that drive students from East Oakland down to the campuses of Silicon Valley so they can learn programming. I want buses that once they have delivered a workforce in the morning, return to the Mission filled with retirees who will tutor students. I want buses that move people around the Bay Area in order to fill in all the gaps between need and resource that mark our social landscape. And these can be virtual buses that use the systems our tech companies have developed.

What we call technology is essentially the engineering of connections that are as fast and efficient as possible. Our success in doing so has made it possible for us to connect with each other in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. So it is sadly ironic that the science and business of connectivity has itself become a wedge issue. But we shouldn't accept that. Instead, we need to improve the circuitry of connection in the Bay Area. Rather than vilifying tech, we should emulate it, and our tech sector should, in turn, embrace this chance to demonstrate what it can do.


With a Perspective, I'm Paul Staley.

Paul Staley works for a housing non-profit. He lives in San Francisco.