A Tale of Two Googles: Race, Labor, and Hierarchy in the Digital Age


Work life at Google’s Mountain View campus, aka the Googleplex, has become something of a modern myth. The conditions and amenities are envied by the majority of cubicle drones who are left to languish in America’s dimly lit office parks and asbestos-ridden buildings. Free gourmet lunches! Pool tables! Hair salons! Toys! Bicycles for everyone! It all seems too good to be true, a workplace utopia where workers are celebrated. However, according to Andrew Norman Wilson, who shot the short film Workers Leaving the GooglePlex, not all Google employees are given such unbridled access to company resources:

Workers Leaving the GooglePlex investigates a top secret, marginalized class of workers at Google’s international corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley. As Andrew Norman Wilson (MFA 2011) documents the mysterious “yellow badge” Google workers, he simultaneously chronicles the complex events surrounding his own dismissal from the company. Workers Leaving the GooglePlex is a multi-channel, narrative video installation that sparks critical thought around issues of labor, capital and information in a time of global and corporate expansion. (via School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Initially driven by a passing curiosity, Wilson began filming Google’s “yellow badge” workers as they exited work for the day. As he states in the video, these workers were primarily those charged with the arduous task of digitizing content for search services such as Google Books, etc. But as Wilson’s personal project became better known to his managers and beyond, concern grew, and he was eventually dismissed from his post.

What’s interesting about Wilson’s study are the questions it raises about race, the division of labor, and organizational hierarchy in an a significantly influential corporation such as Google. It’s a point that the crew over at Workers Punk Art School highlights through a series of archival video clips that depict workers leaving factories over the last century. The images we see in Wilson’s short film are not cruel or even offensive, but they reveal a curious tale of labor division that differs greatly from the one Google sells to the public.

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