Digital life extends far beyond our screens into the real world. That means we need to figure out how to live with the effects of technology in our backyards.
It’s not always easy. Some residents of cities near e-commerce processing centers are complaining about traffic, pollution and Security risks of vans and trucks. Communities where water is scarce are concerned about the needs of internet data centers that use water to keep devices cool. Neighbors sometimes complain noise or rubbish from nearby commercial kitchens and mini-warehouses for delivery services like Uber Eats.
Conflicts over shared space and limited public resources are nothing new. But we are increasingly living side by side with the physical manifestations of the technological services we want and need. And I’m not sure if we, as our new neighbors, are ready for it.
Not so long ago, the impact of technology on our physical world wasn’t that obvious. Sure, every website needed data centers, and ecommerce companies had warehouses and delivery drivers. What has changed is the rapidly growing demand for all of these things and our desire for more technology-enabled amenities that are putting additional strain on public infrastructure faster than ever.
To meet the demand Amazon and other internet shopping companies have opened warehouses and parcel distribution centers closer to where we live. That brings noise, traffic and pollution to more neighborhoods as a compromise for faster deliveries. Companies that Deliver burritos, schnapps or bananas to our door must also have real estate and transportation close to our homes and work. And the effects of climate change have made competition for energy and water more urgent.
No person or company is to blame for this situation alone. To blame for this is our collective demand for more online wholeness, and the public, our elected officials and corporations need to face this new reality much more directly.
A items this week from The Information (Subscription required) on clashes over Amazon package operations in Milford, Massachusetts, mentioned the company formed a task force last year to address community concerns about the impact of its delivery operations. Milford also appointed two liaison officers to share local residents’ concerns with Amazon.
I don’t know if this is a substantial collaboration or window shopping, but it feels like a good first step to acknowledge that moving around the places we live comes with tough questions about whether new neighbors are more useful than damage.
Again, these types of concerns are not new. People would probably rather have an Amazon warehouse in town than a dump or polluting factory. That does not remove citizens’ concerns about the compromises.
Last year I spoke to Richard Mays, the mayor of The dalles, ore., a city that has multiple data centers. He said there was disagreement among local residents as to whether these establishments had contributed enough taxes, job opportunities, and other benefits compared to the stresses on the roads and energy grid.
Our conversation stuck with me because it got to the heart of the matter: do these tech companies, many of which are now in our backyards and on our streets, contribute more than they earn?
It’s a very subjective assessment. And the disadvantages of newcomers, especially high profile companies, may be harder to swallow. You may have endured the traffic from the nearby office park, but a similar traffic jam could feel even worse when it’s at a DoorDash delivery hub.
Our more technology-dependent lives require greater public awareness and smart public policies to effectively manage the ripple effects. We all have an interest in figuring out how to embrace the future we desire while keeping intact the communities we love.
Before we go …
The White House vs. Company Size: President Biden outlined an executive order on Friday in order to Target industries in which few companies have a lot of power, also in technology, report my colleagues David McCabe and Cecilia Kang. David Leonhardt wrote in The Morning Newsletter about why many economists believe eco lack of competition holds back the US economy and wages.
How to prevent a cyber attack in the workplace: The Washington Post goes through warning signs in emails or phone calls (!) that criminals could try to break into your company’s computer systems. A tip: Beware of e-mails that seem to come from a boss who asks for access data. (Also note that cyberattacks never blame a person but are a collective problem.)
Time to redeem these old Pokémon cards: The trading cards based on the video game characters of the 1990s have skyrocketed lately, “Driven by nostalgia, new opportunities to sell online, and excess free time during the pandemic,” reports Bloomberg News. Pokémon card listings on eBay grew 1,046 percent in the first three months of 2021.
Did you catch the pure moment of joy (the vortex!) than 14-year-old Zaila Avantgarde won the Scripps National Spelling Bee? She is also a talented basketball player who can Dribble six balls at a time.
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