(This article first appeared in the SF Weekly)
Last week technology reporter Farhad Manjoo wrote an impassioned defense of the city’s tech sector for SF Magazine. By chance our own tech-savvy correspondent, SF Techie, had written a very similar article, often using the very same words. We’re proud to present it now, in support of his well thought out case.
By SF Techie
I recently met a 23 year-old who’s launching a startup while living out of his car. As a young tech entrepreneur, on or off his meds, he represents San Francisco’s future, and he’s not alone. Hundreds of thousands of equally qualified people are all moving to the Bay Area.
They’re coming here to innovate. And is there anything more innovative, in this day and age, than being a twenty-something with an idea for a startup?
They have to come here. One of the great promises of the Internet, after all, is liberation from the petty constraints of geography. But in practice, that’s absurd — if you want to be anyone in tech, you have to be in the Bay Area. Which means that, this one time, the Internet didn’t actually live up to its promise to change something. But that’s the only time that happened, or ever will happen. That and ending racism. And raising the living standard of the middle class. It turns out the internet has failed to do any of that.
But that’s it. We should be confident that every other promise made about the Internet by tech-funded economists, tech-funded journalists, and tech-entrepreneurs, will come true. Why? Because: Technology. Disruption. New Economy. 2.0.
You can’t argue with that.
No other region is better positioned to take advantage of the new tech forces shaping the world than the Bay Area, except perhaps the Virtual Bay Area being constructed by Google. It’s where the Singularity will live, if it can afford an apartment. (Our best engineers are still testing whether the Singularity can create a real estate market it can’t buy into.)
Nowhere else besides the Bay Area has anything close to the density of funders, product managers, engineers, journalists, strategists, and data miners that you find here living out of their cars. And if someday those cars drive themselves, then we’ll have finally revolutionized homelessness, too.
All those brilliant and ambitious engineers and scientists working together with government support can only do good things, the way they once did in Motor City or Tuskegee. These were extraordinarily productive times for technology and innovation, and no one got hurt.
Which means there’s only one thing standing in the way of the Bay Area becoming a permanent capital of the next global economy: democracy. If the small minded, myopic, and reflexively antagonistic people who live here decide they don’t want to reinvent their neighborhoods for the good of the technology industry, and use their votes to prevail, then we may have to take their votes away, like we have so many minority-owned homes. Real estate, after all, is a meritocracy.
But don’t be pessimistic! As a tech journalist in constant contact with industry executives, founders, investors, and engineers, I’ve been struck lately by how giddy the techies have become — how often they seem to pause in slack-jawed awe at their industry’s potential to reshape our lives over the next decade. To be sure, many of these people are professional smoke blowers. And yet I believe them. That’s called “Journalism.” Or, at least, “Pando Daily.” And it’s never been wrong.
Study the roots of our new tech economy, and you’ll find that it differs in important ways from the Internet bubble of the ’90s. That blip was fed by the promise of future billions that we were certain to realize from the web economy. Today’s tech industry, on the other hand, is fed by the promise of future billions from the mobile economy.
It’s a completely different economy. And unlike the web, which never caught on, people actually use mobile devices.
The vast infrastructure created by personalized big data collection incorporated across biometric mobile platforms in no way cross-synergizes empty buzzwords the way the 90s tech boom did.
So what San Francisco really needs is more tech workers. Just as only technology can solve the many, many, problems created by technology, so only more tech employees can solve the many, many problems created by tech employees.
The fact that we deny causing them only proves how much better we’ll be at solving them than you.
Why should we assume that the thousands of new aspiring tech workers pouring into the Bay Area will decimate the arts, cultural diversity, tolerance, and neighborhoods of San Francisco, just because that’s what happened last time? Technology is about innovation. If the industry destroys your city the same way twice, it hasn’t done it right. We’ve obviously learned from our mistakes, the same way Wall Street has.
If you want to see the benefits that the tech sector brings to San Francisco, look no farther than Airbnb, which refuses to pay hotel taxes, and the ride sharing site Uber, which won’t adequately insure its drivers or accept the non-discrimination clause taxis do. They boldly show that the tech industry doesn’t respect your laws or your regulations, which is how you know they’ll be great neighbors.
Uber, it should be pointed out, is also greening the city by discouraging people from using public transit or bicycles. And you haven’t even thanked them.
So San Franciscans have to find new ways to accommodate the tech industry. The tech industry would be glad to find new ways to accommodate San Franciscans, too, but it’s busy innovating. That’s much more important than anything you’re doing. Trust us. We’re innovators. It says so in our mission statements.
These newcomers are not barbarians at our gates — these are people whose values largely mirror those of the city dwellers they are ruthlessly pushing out. They’re just like you, only whiter and able to live here. There’s absolutely no rational reason to expect you won’t enjoy knowing they’re living in what used to be your apartment.
What cities in the Bay Area need to do is to develop policies that better support young entrepreneurs: more Single Room Occupancy units, for example, that can be given to tech workers instead of actual homeless people. We’re not asking for a government handout, we just want the government to support the development of our industry through massive tax breaks and civic realignment without getting anything in return.
Which you have to do because, if you don’t, we won’t locate here. Except that we have to locate here, because if you want to be anyone in tech you have to be in the Bay Area. Which … hmmmm ….
Ah screw it, just give us the tax breaks and your houses, and let the trans-humans figure out why. They’ll be smarter than both of us put together, which is how we know they’ll agree with me.
The Bay Area has finally found a source of economic prosperity that will keep on going no matter who it hurts. Let’s not ruin that by worrying about unintended consequences. There’s no historical evidence to support such fears. When has a new industry ever had unintended consequences?
It’s never happened. I checked my Twitter feed.
People who are worried about how a boom industry that refuses to play by the rules of democratically elected local governments might lead to unintended consequences for their communities just don’t understand how the world works. They’re naïve, which is why the people who decided to come to the bay area and live out of their cars while pursuing a startup will crush them.
What I’m saying is: we will destroy you. But don’t worry about it. We’re just like you.