Julie Pagano

Centralia, PA

One of my talents is coming up with increasingly horrifying metaphors for the tech industry. Systemic abuse is like a DDoS attack. The pipeline ends in a meat grinder. Toxicity in the tech industry is like Centralia, PA.

I’m going to expand on that last one — the newest one. It’s much less self-explanatory than the others. To understand the metaphor, you need to know about Centralia, a tiny ghost town in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. Gather around for a weird piece of US history.

Sign that reads Borough of Centralia
Photo CC-BY dfirecop.

Centralia was a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. The town had a garbage dump on top of an old strip mine. In 1962, they decided to clean it up by setting it on fire. Everybody loves a good trash fire. Unfortunately, this particular trash fire spread to the coal mine under the town.

Handmade signs that read 'fire' with arrows.
Photo CC-BY erin m.

Fun fact: coal is really good at burning, especially when there’s a lot of it. Centralia’s underground trash fire quickly got out of hand. Side effects of the runaway trash fire included: hot steam, poisonous gas, spooky smoke, and sinkholes that tried to eat children.

Sign that reads: Warning - Danger. Underground mine fire. Walking or driving in this area could result in serious injury or death. Dangerous gases are present. Ground is prone to sudden collapse.
Photo CC-BY Lyndi & Jason.

Repeated attempts were made to put out the fire. All failed. They gave up and let it burn. The town was inhospitable. The people left. Centralia became a ghost town.

That trash fire is still burning. It will be burning long after we’re all gone.

Road with cracks emitting steam and smoke.
Photo CC-BY Angela Parriott.

Bonus fact: Centralia, PA and its spooky, neverending trash fire were an inspiration for the eponymous town in the psychological horror video game Silent Hill.

Graffiti on a road with the words Silent Hill.
Photo CC-BY RAVDesigns.

Why is a decade’s old trash fire under a ghost town in Pennsylvania a metaphor for the tech industry? I will leave that as an exercise for the reader. For extra fun, involve the bonus fact and consider which tech “celebrities” make you think of Pyramid Head.

As a parting note, please remember that your trash fires send a message, and you can’t always put them out.

Sign on a chain fence reading 'Stay Out.'
Photo CC-BY Peter & Laila.