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WeWork: Building Backwards from Built Environments to Digital Platforms

Authors: Sanna Ali*, Stanford University
Topics: Urban Geography, Communication, Economic Geography
Keywords: platform urbanism, technology
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As digital technologies have grown in use and popularity, Silicon Valley has accordingly seen a growth in tech campuses, private company transportation, and a widening of inequality between two tiers of labor within the technology industry: the "creative elite" of technologists and service workers. As such, tech giants like Google and Facebook have extended their agendas to include worker communities and housing as well as Smart City initiatives, often justifying these plans with techno-utopian rhetoric. WeWork, on the other hand, has seized on this trend, building coworking spaces, coliving spaces, and even schools for the tech elite and their families. WeWork sublimates the impulse of these platforms to co-opt and capitalize on the notion of community through urban design in physical, rather than purely digital, space. Instead, we see WeWork working backwards from this built environment and extending this into the digital: through their app and through digital surveillance of the physical environment. Though not "platform-first," WeWork demonstrates a fascinating convergence with technology companies’ uses of platform logics in the built environment. Likewise, it is this convergence in values and logics that makes WeWork’s positioning as a “tech company” intuitive and persuasive despite surface dissimilarities. By analyzing WeWork as a case study, the deep and widespread influence of techno-capitalism on other industries, such as real estate, becomes apparent. Such a profound influence suggests that techno-capitalism, unfettered by regulation, will likely give rise to techno-feudalism.

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