Friday, January 3, 2014

I guess I've changed my mind

For the most part, I've stayed kind of neutral in the Great Tech Wars so far.  At some points, I thought the anger directed at the new techie types in SF was misguided and that it was just part of the natural evolution of the city; I even wrote a satirical piece making fun of Change Hysteria.  At the same time, I had no problem making fun of the boorish, awful demeanor of some of the tech people.

But this article is the last straw.  I'm not sure I can see the POV of an industry with people like this as its leaders any more.

To be fair, it wasn't just Bryan Goldberg's hamfisted, deeply unfunny, dripping-with-condescension, hateful piece that did it.  There's one of those every week!  Fuck, Bryan Goldberg writes one almost every week!  That's more the culmination than the only reason.

So let me back up for a minute.  I am not against tech companies, per se.  And I am not against tech companies establishing themselves in San Francisco.  I am not against tech workers.  What I am concerned about is the frightening pace at which San Francisco is giving itself over to a narrow slice of the economy; what I am against is the massively entitled, almost sociopathic lack of empathy shown by the new residents, typified by Goldberg's piece.

To some extent, I'm a hypocrite.  I wasn't born here.  I moved here in 1990, so maybe I displaced someone, although I doubt it.  Rents were high by the standards of the day, but nothing like today.  And I doubt that I kept some worthy long-time resident from getting the very low-paying job at a bookstore I got.  But I'm just saying.

I'm gonna sound like a total tool now, but here goes.  San Francisco was a much different place in the early-to-mid 90's.  There was a sort of wild feeling, like anything could happen.  You could take over an abandoned building (I know, right?) and throw a party.  I went to see a one-off play in a building where AT&T Park now sits.  Everyone was up to something creative, it seemed like.  Like I said, rents were higher than, say, Chicago, but you could split a 3-bedroom flat with 2 other people on what you'd make at a restaurant or cafe and have most of your time free to paint or, God forbid, play in a thrash funk band.  I don't think that's possible any more, and that kind of makes me sad.

(I know, I know, lawn, kids, etc. Old-timer wishes things wouldn't change is the hoariest cliche of all.  I am at least self-aware enough to know what I'm doing.)

What I guess I'm really afraid of is the city becoming boring.  A monoculture is boring, and if everyone works in tech, because they forced everyone else out, the net result is going to be a more boring city.  That's what I'm afraid of.

(Of course I don't believe that ALL 850,000 RESIDENTS will eventually work in tech.  But if enough tech people move here and force out the people who were doing [admittedly, subjectively] Cool Things, same diff?)

So what's the solution? Build more housing, at least, and see if that helps.  Personally, I have no problem with the Google busses; I imagine they probably do a net good by keeping cars off the road, but they should probably pay for using the Muni stops.  Build more housing.  BUILD MORE HOUSING.

The biggest part of the solution is something you can't legislate or regulate: Attitude.  Admittedly, I don't spend a whole lot of time around tech workers, but anecdotally I am informed that they are only loosely connected to the city, in the sense that they live here and maybe go out to restaurants here, but connection to a city means the city becomes important to you.  You join groups, you give back in some way.  Maybe it's volunteering, maybe it's just joining a band or putting on an art show or forming a neighborhood group.  There are a thousand ways to do it.

So when I say I'm no longer neutral, I don't mean I'm going to throw bricks at Google busses or that I even dislike tech people personally.  I mean that I've changed my mind.  I no longer think it's just the city naturally progressing.  Now I think there's something actively worrying going on here, and we need to do something about it.  I'm not going to pretend that I know all the answers, but hopefully we figure something out.

WHEW.  That was heavy.  Back to jokes.  The Bachelor is starting soon!

[UPDATE: ONE OTHER THING I just remembered Jesus why am I yelling. Um.  I was just talking about this to someone.  I remember seeing a little piece in SF Weekly written by someone who was fed up with SF's high rents and how boring and bland it was getting and so was moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas, which apparently has a vibrant arts scene or something.  This was in 1991 or 1992. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.]


KBN said...

Don't worry Ponyboy, you're gold, so stay that way. In my opinion, you hit the proverbial nail on the head.

GG said...

Thanks for a great post. I feel the same way on almost all of your points.

To me, it all comes down to commitment to the city. Did you come here because you think San Francisco is amazing, you want to learn its history and explore all of its neighborhoods, and hopefully die here? Or did you come here because someone offered you a lot of money, and you heard SF is pretty good for partying, and you figured you'd check it out for a few years and then go back to where you came from to raise kids and "settle down"? I guess you can tell which kind of neighbors I prefer -- and that's true regardless of how much money they make, or what industry they work in, and how recently they moved here.

TK said...

KBN & GG - Thx guys. It'll be interesting to look back in 20 years and see What Hath We Wrought.

Andrea said...

Happily living in the outer outer outer Sunset sandwiched between immigrants from Cork and Canton, but more than a little bit afraid the hammer swinging Sunset Irish will soon be displaced by the "Wife Only-No Kids" type.

I like my little Ocean Beach / Parkside oasis. Pray that Google doesn't make it past Bernal.

Unknown said...

Well said. SF is a powerful place - a lot of these techies will get into cooler stuff when this mini-bubble collapses. The rest will leave. SF was founded on a bubble - things will work out.

Anonymous said...

First Bryan Goldbery is a b-school frat boy, that doesn't even live in SF anymore. I have been reading a lot of the anti techie stuff, and a lot of the arguments come off either as NIMBY or as nativist. I really really don't understand what the giving back is all about. I get the culture argument but in a sense I am sure if you asked the pacific heights people about your punk shows they probably would sniff a little bit and direct you the ballet or something like that. BTW those rich people hate the techies too, and they also think they are boring. What is this cultural commitment that S.F. residents are supposed to be required to make? I can't think of any other major city that has residents demanding that of other residents. Maybe bolinas, or some nutso survival compound, but it just sounds weird here. If people want to be left alone who cares…, leave them alone. They are only ruining it for you if you let it get to you. Frankly it is more opportunity to do cool things with other people who are into cool things. If that means bottom of the hill or the chapel is a little less crowded, great. @Andrea replace Google with any race/religion/sexual orientation, and I don't see how your view lines up…

Skance said...

@nickh, I think you're missing the point, which is not that everybody who lives in SF should rescue pigeons or do an art installation on their block or anything, but more that there is a vast swath of what constitutes doing 'cool things with other people who are into cool things'. When one group controls things economically they tend to influence what those things become. That makes the city significantly less diverse, and people are not just 'ruining it for you if you let it get to you' when you literally can't afford to pay rent anymore. For me, SF was somewhere I very deliberately chose to be because of that diversity and the feeling that TK tries to convey, and it makes me feel protective of it. It seems that the tech community ended up here by geographic default and doesn't have the same love for the city as people who moved here for another reason do.

Stephen said...

Hi nickh,

Just need to stop you right here: " replace Google with any race/religion/sexual orientation, and I don't see how your view lines up…"

I can't believe this requires explanation, but bhere's a difference the size of the Grand Canyon between the work you choose to do, and immutable characteristics you are born with/into. It is wrong/bigoted/discriminatory to assess people based on things that are immutable/fundamental to their identities. It is, on the other hand, the norm (and, indeed, necessary) to assess people based on the choices they make, like being Seahawks fans, foie gras eaters, or douchebags. There is no caste forced to work the Google mines through the generations.

Now, is it silly to paint "Techies" with a broad brush when there may be infinite variations within the term? Maybe. But there's nothing morally wrong about doing so.

Anonymous said...

@TK- I've read your blog since I moved here in early 2010. Straight out of college, I came to San Francisco because I LOVED this city. I used to visit my father, a fisherman, when his work would bring him here for herring season.

Another big part of why I moved here? I wanted to work for Google.

I started at a non-profit but didn't make enough to live so I babysat, waitressed, etc. to get by. I worked for 3 years at start-ups in the city before landing my dream gig- at Google.

I am a Googler who lives in SF and loves this city. I volunteer at Glide and at The Women's Building. It was my shuttle to work a few weeks ago that was stopped by protesters and boarded. I will continue live in SF while I work at Google. I will live in SF after I work at Google. I don't see it as a playground or a place to dine out, it is my home and the one place in the world I used to feel completely accepted.

While I know most tech employees are not as connected to the city as I am, there are many of us. And we came to SF because this is the place we wanted to build our lives. So when the jerk-off comments of some over-entitled guy get you down, please think of me and others like me, who love this City and WANT to see the same change and improvements those protesters who boarded my shuttle are fighting for.

TK said...

googlergirl, thanks for the comment. I know that I painted with a pretty broad brush and not everyone who works in tech is a clueless asshole. I'm glad to hear from people like you. It's encouraging. Thanks for reading (and writing).

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