I don’t get out as much any more now that I’ve learned to do my work online. Slouching behind a steering wheel 200 miles a day has been replaced by slouching at a screen waiting for emails eight hours a day. My work, what little is left of it, involves no heavy lifting on the fringes of the construction business in and around what is popularly called the The Swamp. Back in the day I’d leave the house every morning in order to go places and do important things like chat with people and shuffle paper. Who’d have ever believed that once safely imprisoned entrepreneurs would miss trivialities like “good morning,” or “happy Friday,” the ever-popular “95 was a freaking nightmare this morning,” and the obligatory “how about those Redskins? They deserved to lose.” At first telephone calls sufficed, but many like me packed in the game and retreated. As I drove from county to customer I’d note which new buildings had my light touch of expertise bestowed upon them. And then came 2020.
Prior to the Red Death planned-emic I had a client who installed cooling in data centers, and there are a lot of them in this neck of the woods. But after a dispute over payment, that contractor and a new wave of rude, college-educated 20somethings who, having become frightened of both telephone calls and good manners, won’t call me any more. Diddums, you know what they say in Russia? Tough shitski. Life goes on. One of their projects was Dulles Discovery — the C_A’s very own profitable Amazon platform … never mind, I didn’t think that, officer. Data centers aka The Cloud are very important to our surveillance economy. One no longer needs to store pictures of their lunch, or their cat videos on their Dick Tracy 2-way wrist TVs because for a small fee extracted from your credit card every month you can store them on your private and totally encrypted (bwahahaha) i-drive. Then a harp went brrrrrinnnnggg, the screen got all wavy, and I found myself back in time.
It all began when AOL sent CDs in the mail – I don’t even remember in what year I received my first one. But a couple of decades ago I did do some work in Loudoun County for the AOL headquarters on Pacific Boulevard which grew and grew and opened all sorts of doors for tag-along businesses, not to mention the laying of very expensive fiber-optic cable running the length of Lee Highway, US-29, from Northern Virginia’s swampland all the way to the jungles of Atlanta connecting up a host of colleges and hospitals along the way. Pretty soon buildings with 8,000 tons of air conditioning were popping up in the Piedmont like mushrooms after a soaking rain. Loudoun has no fewer than 50 of them with several more going up along a newly completed Loudoun Parkway. They have such wonderful names like Darius, Xerxes and Cyrus, AboveNet, and of course Cloud HQ. Neighboring Prince William hosts about 40 more, and they are beginning to attract a lot of negative attention from concerned citizens on the grounds that they consume too much energy from Dominion Power. Local politicians are holding their fingers in the wind seeing which way the donations are going.
It’s ironic that they were all built in this area on the grounds that electricity is cheapest here. Now the ugly concrete boxes must provide their very own clean, green (paint), biodiverse diesel generators as they monitor your every click.
At first data centers promised new jobs even though county planners who reviewed the drawings noticed that a 500,000-square-foot building had fewer than 20 parking spaces. But buildings pay property taxes at a higher rate than farm-to-woodland, so promising jobs was something of a McGuffin for the developer – usually some offshoot of Amazon, or is it Cooper? A few changes in the design of the internal electronics meant that these massive warehouses no longer needed costly air conditioning to cool the “rack spaces.” New electronics are designed to operate at 120F instead of 80F, and since the weather has not topped 100F for a couple of years now, cooling involves massive air fans blasting the excess heat from the rooftops. Of course, wild suburban air is dusty and dirty and full of wildlife like insects and birds, so huge banks of filters are used to keep all those natural pollutants from soiling your memories. Each center has a crew of Mexicans, Aztecs, and campesinos changing filters 24 hours a day 365 days a year at least not while they’re not in court for either drunken driving or incest charges. And most frequently these buildings feature a muzz security guard. What? Did you really expect snivelized folks addicted to working from home to commute and do monotonous robotnik for $20 an hour? We need mental health days for a good reason – we’re officially soft and sliding down the helter-skelter that is Deuteronomy chapter 28.
So, as Rachel Maddow once said, this is our life now. What do we do to improve it? I suggest growing at least some of your own food. After all, we English are rather keen on gardening. The Nortons are getting into bud break, the daffodils should last another three weeks, the grape hyacinth are propagating a sea of blue, and my blackberry hedge will keep deer at bay, and the nets will frustrate the birds. Toads are peeping and eating flies, and the copperheads will eat them in due course. With several 80lb bags of Sakrete I can build a 30-year retaining wall and with several truckloads of dump mulch and compost, I can level off 500 square feet of flat ground for taters, maters, turnips, cabbages, carrots, and whatever else I can coax the earth. No melons this year though, they are too thirsty. Maybe I’ll solve that situation by taking advantage of a rather high water table and drive a well down 20’ or so. Water will be your friend.
The good news is that the Earth’s magnetic field is weakening, so in time all those data-mined 1s and 0s will become unreadable. With judicious neglect in 20 years the concrete boxes will all be invaded by poison ivy, greenbrier, kudzu, mice and screech owls. With any luck they’ll become the Mayan temples of the future over which clever archaeologists will marvel and try to decode their mysteries.
I’ll keep you posted.
© Reader Stephen 2023