The words of the (digital) prophets are written on subway walls

The ancient art of graffiti enters the 21st century with a high-tech twist.

For as long as people have known how to write or draw and there have been buildings to write or draw on, there's been graffiti. One of the most fascinating things to see at Pompeii is the writing and drawing scratched into the walls of that doomed city, like this image here, which appears to be a caricature that a slave or servant drew of his master.

Today, despite police emphasis on the "broken window" theory of fighting nuisance crimes, graffiti is as prevalent as ever. And it reflects the times we live in: walk long enough around any city and you might just see some vandalism with a tech theme.

Credit: Doran/Flickr
Tech icons are our icons

In a celebrity-obsessed culture, tech luminaries seem to have as much right to a weird populist graffiti appropriation of their imagery as anyone else who's famous. In this Los Angeles poster, Bill Gates's 1977 mug shot (he was arrested in Albuquerque for a traffic violation) is set against images of Jay-Z and Lindsay Lohan.

Good apples better the bunch

Gates's now-deceased arch-rival Steve Jobs makes for an equally iconic figure in graffiti art. In this Cincinnati mural, a young Jobs offers an apple to the viewer in a scene that might remind you a little bit of the Garden of Eden. An older version of Jobs's face makes for a striking image as well.

I own you

Jobs and Gates were on the scene for so long that they do seem like icons to most people, with the emotional distance that comes with that. Someone like Mark Zuckerberg, who's younger and in charge of a site that engenders a love-hate relationship with so many people, can elicit a more visceral response, as this graffiti poster from Los Angeles demonstrates pretty well. People seem to love beating him up.

CCTV Google

Google's founders and execs have a decently high profile, but they haven't become household faces the way some other tech leaders have. But the fact that the company doesn't have as well-known a public face doesn't mean that it doesn't elicit strong reactions, especially when it comes to privacy, as this eerie graffiti in New York City makes clear.


Since we spend so much time staring at computer screens, it's not surprising that some of the ephemera we see there pop up from the collective unconscious onto walls everywhere, though graffiti artists have of course tweaked them to match their own interests and ideas. The long-rumored Facebook dislike button may have never been real, but it exists on this wall in Israel, at least.

Unexpected errors

Internet Explorer may not be anywhere nearly as crash-prone as it once was, but for many of us the sight of IE-related error dialog boxes is eternally burned into our retinas. You can understand where this Norwegian graffiti artist is coming from.


Microsoft would love it if as many people had played with a Windows Surface tablet as had seen IE crash over the years. But the struggling tablet computer hasn't been neglected by graffiti artists, as these cheeky Surfaces painted onto a wall in the United Kingdom demonstrate.

Evict Google

Google isn't just an individual tech company: it also represents the wealth and power the tech industry has taken on over the past two decades, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. That level of affluence has given rise to tension, especially when it comes to skyrocketing rents in space-constrained San Francisco. This sidewalk graffiti in San Francisco represents the resentment caused by tech-driven gentrification and displacement. (Similar sentiments have been spray-painted across the city in terms we're too polite to reproduce here, but click through if you're interested.)

Hashtag graffiti

Eventually, all technology fades into our everyday experiences until we don't really perceive it as "technology" anymore. Twitter hashtags may not quite be there yet, but the fact that they're popping up in graffiti sure seems to indicate they're on their way. Whether the hashtags are politically oriented or, as in this Washington, D.C., graffito, just expressing love for one's home town, it still seems a little odd for them to appear in paint. But maybe someday it won't be noteworthy at all.

The bathroom wall of code

This tour through tech graffiti has, we admit, been a little bit silly. But consider the metaphor in reverse: Coding Horror's Jeff Atwood has called the Internet "the bathroom wall of code," likening the omnipresence of code snippets easily found with a few seconds of Googling to the dubious information that anyone can scrawl on the walls of a public restroom. And so, if the Internet, one of the pinnacles of modern technical achievement, has been basically turned into a graffiti zone by careless programmers, why shouldn't the web's influence manifest itself on physical walls, out there in the world? It just stands to reason.