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My final day of this adventure, and I went to the heart of everything – The Googleplex, Google HQ. And for good measure I also went to Infinty Loop, the Apple HQ.

The Googleplex is too perfect, which makes me suspicious. Fun, bright colours, Googlers bicycling around the site on Google bikes, amazing architecture, a volleyball court. It gives off a warm, welcoming vibe (visitors are allowed to wander around), but the offices are impenetrable. What future is being plotted for us behind those glass exteriors?

I caught a fragment of conversation between two Googlers: “… something that sits by your bed and wakes you up at the perfect time…”. I don’t think they were meaning a simple alarm clock here. Note how agency is being transferred from slumberer to that-which-never-sleeps. Is this a good thing? Who knows, but apparently, according to this conversation “… in about 8 years’ time …” our agency for our own awakening will be removed.

The Apple HQ is inaccessible, but the Visitor Centre (sorry Center, aka Shop) opposite, is very definitely accessible, and that, I have to say, is perfect. The architecture is spacious, clean, comfortable, inviting. This is how billionaires must live, I thought. The staff, however, were possibly too perfect. They are surely part automata, as their devotion to the cause and infectious enthusiasm never wavers. Even when I confessed that I had a Samsung phone they smiled sympathetically. If I had stayed there any longer I would have been converted to the cult.

By contrast, Infinity Loop is sinister and foreboding, like a Bond villain hideaway. Enormous portals are monitored by security staff, high trees deny any real view, and it feels like a giant UFO has just landed in our midst. Which in some ways it has.

My brain is too overfull to give any deep and meaningful conclusions at this stage. That will have to wait for Phase 2 of my project, in which I use this amazing journey as a starting point for some new work. But I am left with innumerable paradoxes and seemingly unresolvable opposites. Have I been to the Magic Mountain or to Uncanny Valley? I should know by now: things are never either/or, but always both/and.

The final word, however, goes to the anonymous resident of San Jose who posted this sticker near my motel. A reminder (if one were needed) that there is more to life than bright and shiny tech.

Many thanks to Arts Council England for the DYCP grant that made this journey possible.


A penultimate day of artiness, and (finally) a chance for a wander round San Jose itself. Lots to like, big, open urban spaces with impressive buildings and public art, though I don’t know if that is how it appears to those who live here. Sadly the art gallery was closed, although I did enjoy a sound piece by Trevor Paglen that played on the hour.

Adobe Global HQ is here, its footprint is slightly disappointing; Zoom is also here, and is more impressive: frustratingly the best shot is to be found whilst driving on the freeway. I found myself taking pictures of the street furniture instead, which seems more agressively territorial than in the UK.

After a visit to Grocery Outlet (cheaper even than Smart&Final) I wound up at the San Jose State University art department for a talk by Jonathon Keats (who I’d met last night) on ‘Prototyping Future Democracies’, his project to enfranchise the plant world. Jonathon treads the line between absurdity and applied commonsense better than most, and this was truly fascinating. Why not give plants a vote?


By chance, Cambridge(shire) artist and former podcast victim Karen Eng is over this week to photograph the Codex Artists’ Book Fair, so we agreed to meet up. Artists’ books are at the opposite end of the tech continuum and as such provide a nice counterpoint to my enquiries.

The fair was vast, situated in a former automobile construction hangar with around 150 stalls. I should like such events more than I do; I am not so much drawn to the materials and construction of a book, more to the ideas that books convey. So I sought out artists accordingly. First up was Abra Ancliffe, who had attempted to teach herself Icelandic by watching TV and transcribing the subtitles into a dictionary. I also spoke to Ximena Perez Grobet, who had made a memorial to events in 1968 Mexico in the style of On Kawara, who was there at the time. And finally, I talked to Robert Dawson about his ongoing project to photograph libraries in the US and abroad, and we discussed the future of libraries in the context of tech.

Thence to the North Beach area of San Francisco, home of Beat sensibilities and a fine Jack Kerouac museum. I could have happily bought most of the books in the City Lights bookstore.

Then to my final artist meeting, with Jonathon Keats, who describes himself rather perfectly as an experimental philosopher and conducts seemingly fantastical projects which nevertheless prod and probe and some important questions. He has copyrighted his own mind, attempted to genetically engineer God and created a honeybee ballet. Not surprisingly, our conversation overran and it was a late night home.


I made it to Monterey Bay, an iconic drive down the Pacific coast with thrilling sea views. The sea was a very deep blue and the white foam of the breakers was spectacular. Sadly it was too windy for many of the sea lions, seals and sea otters beach and sun themselves, but there was a huge colony of sea lions hiding under the wooden pier.

And if you look closely, there are four pelicans in flight in this pic (honest). A bracing day of sea air and seafood, followed by a drive back through the redwoods. Refreshing.


Being the Second Saturday of the month, the School of Visual Philosophy across the road from the Flamingo Motel was holding an open afternoon, and it was great. The school is set in a large open plan space (former shop store?), with a front office reception area and small shop, and then a large open space with artist studios constructed around the perimeter. At the back, it opens out again into a large print room and an even larger blacksmith’s and workshop area. I caught the end of a talk before taking a look round. The artists are mostly grounded in traditional techniques: printmaking, metalwork, sculpture, signcraft and letterpress, which of course is the polar opposite of new media technologies and made for a perfect compare-and-contrast. I liked the energy of the space. This is something intangible and I don’t think is linked to any particular medium but more to a sense of openness to creative endeavour.

I managed to chat to founders Dana Harris Seeger and Yori Seeger. Dana told me how they had set up the school to keep traditional art and craft forms alive. I asked Yori about his thoughts on new tech. He sees it as another tool to be used, provided it builds on a deep understanding of the underlying art form and doesn’t try to short cut it. For a recent commission to build a display cabinet, Yori told me how he had first made the tools with which he made the cabinet, and that these would then form part of the final piece. Now that’s commitment to the process. I finished my visit eating freshly made pierogi dumplings and listening to live music. A great afternoon.

Across the road, another open studio. This was a friendly, welcoming event, but somehow lacked the same spark. I spoke to Belinda Lima who is from Surrey but has lived in the area for 30 years. She told me how the rise of the tech giants has led to new developments, higher rent, and pressure on artist studio spaces. This sounded very familiar: Cambridge (aka Silicon Fen) is on a similar trajectory, if not at the same scale.

My day ended with a visit to the Root Division 20th anniversary celebrations. Root Division is an impressive artists studio and white cube gallery space in San Francisco. It was busy and buzzing. I enjoyed the atmosphere and stayed for the speeches, with much well-deserved appreciation for keeping the organisation afloat and thriving for so long. The challenges of funding, supportive landlords, commitment and drive seem to be universal for any art endeavour to succeed.