San Francisco’s Tech Culture: A Plea for Compromise

By now everyone has seen the comments made by one Greg Gopman, founder of a company that is headquartered in San Francisco. Like Peter Shih, who referred to San Francisco’s transgender community as dangerous and its women as ugly, Greg too found a way to – and I’m using a gentle word here – disparage the existence of some of San Francisco’s residents.

ImageHe went on to describe, in comments defending his position, San Francisco’s homeless population as the, “lower part of society,” “degenerates,” and claimed that “there is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us.” Likewise he suggests we should move homeless shelters, methadone clinics, and other types of “that shit” to Daly City. Ultimately he half-heartedly apologized, and I use this adverb because I do not believe he would have apologized if his post had not received widespread media attention. But, that is my opinion. I don’t know Gopman personally and cannot give you a definitive statement on his motives.

What resulted was an onslaught of rage towards Gopman, which I contributed to. Now, I vocalized my opinion for two reasons:

1) I am a native San Franciscan: my family has lived here and in the Bay Area for 4 generations. This is my home.

2) I work in the tech industry, and I am embarrassed by the attitude and behavior of many of my contemporaries.

I want to emphasize that what happened here is an example of a larger trend. I will not spend my time getting caught up in a debate on the issue he surfaced. There is an undeniable problem with homelessness in San Francisco, just like there are problems with public transportation in San Francisco. The realities of these issues cannot be debated, because they are in fact reality.

What Gopman, Shih, and others have shown us is an attitude problem among many in the tech industry that is characterized by self-nominated elitism and a the total lack of concern towards the community that is making them millionaires. This is underscored by an apparent lack of empathy, as Gopman displayed, which fuels the poisonous narrative of an “us vs them” community.

A good example of tech elitism and the lack of empathy that drives it is one of the responses to Greg’s apology on Facebook, and the 6 likes it collected. What follows is 7 confirmed people who support putting the homeless into labor camps:

ImageYou guys, she’s TRAVELED places. Someone give her a Nobel Prize.

It is disheartening to watch your city fill up with people who don’t care about it. They are predominantly from out of town, claim San Francisco as their own, and then bash it to high hell typically because it is dissimilar to wherever they came from. Recently, Ivy League grads and other highly-motivated people, who likely would have gone into finance 20 years ago, recognized the money to be made by enterprising out West. Suddenly the tech scene stopped being about making incredible products and changing the world, and turned into a capital-raising frenzy in a race to be under 30 with X amount of dollars in the bank no matter how it impacted the community around them.

On the other side, there is a decent amount of rhetoric that slams the tech community for existing at all, which perpetuates the toxic “us vs them” mentality. I understand the pain – inflated property values, gentrification, outsiders displacing locals – each of these issues is deeply important and gets my ire up, too. But anyone who looks at San Francisco and claims it should stay the same does not understand who San Francisco is. This city is dynamic, and that is the one attribute that characterizes it most.

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We should also not be so quick dismiss “technology” as an industry. I’ll be the first to admit that tons of startups are total noisy bullshit, but let’s not forget that being able to play host to some of the most breakthrough technologies in history is a great honor. Here we have 3D printing which will give people everywhere the option for low-price prosthetics and organs, social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit that allow us to connect with others and share information faster than ever, and services like Change.org, Glassdoor, and Yelp that enable us to demand action and transparency from the companies that create products for us.

Similarly, these tech companies, including those that provide buses for their employees (Google, Apple, Facebook, Genentech, EA, etc) collectively provide jobs for hundreds of thousands of people in the Bay Area alone. To complain about them using buses is narrow-minded and unproductive. I used to ride one of those buses to work every day, and I can guarantee 99% of people aboard are aware of the privilege.

There has to be a middle ground, and it has to come from both sides. Together we need to stop perpetuating this “us vs them” mentality because it distracts from the issues that so desperately need our collective energy.

To Techies: We need entrepreneurs and techies to become citizens of this community, rather than electing to exist “above” it. There are consequences to the actions you take, consequences that affect the people around you. By trivializing that community, you contribute to the unwarranted attitude of tech elitism and entitlement that is garnering critique from the city that is hosting you.

You must develop a sense of empathy for the issues that you directly influence, and understand that while Tech is what brought you here, there exists a universe outside of it. For example, when Silicon Valley money makes you rich, you must understand that by offering $1000/month over the asking price on a rental property in SF another landlord will likely evict long time tenants so they can go condo to take advantage of that kind of money.

To Locals: Likewise, we need locals and residents accept that in an entropic universe change is inevitable, and that we must focus our energy on things like continuing to help rehabilitate the homeless, rather than holding people on a bus hostage. It’s unfair to blame all of our problems on any and all tech people, the majority of which are just trying to make it through the day and come home to their families. Let’s redirect our justifiable anger towards those who earn it, like Greg Gopman, and use the remaining energy to address the problems he so poorly described. I should mention this DOES NOT include putting SF’s homeless in concentration camps. Sorry Ms. Zhang.

Presents for Techsters

Hanukkah is almost upon us – can you believe it? That means Christmas is just weeks or possibly days away – it’s different every year! What fun! However it is in fact that time of year, the time where we all scramble to find the best deals on the hottest items to prove to our family members that we love them. If the amount of presents under my family’s very secular Christmas tree are any indication, we love each other so much that it’s oppressive and tiring.

Shopping for presents is never an easy task, particularly when you’re purchasing for many people at once. It has to be the right balance of your enjoyment in giving the gift relative to their pleasure in receiving the gift. Oy vey! So given the diverse interests of the people in your life, I decided to take some of the load off by giving a few suggestions for picking out that perfect lil something for your techie, early-adopter friend. Mind you I mean an adopter of new technologies, not of orphaned children.

THE LIST

1) Coin! Pre-order the next generation of credit card that’s buzzwording its way into peoples’ hearts. This gift is perfect for your friend who loves hype and literally has too much of everything – especially credit cards. With Coin they can digitally consolidate their numerous, waterproof plastic cards into one hydrophilic entity that doesn’t necessarily function without close proximity to a smartphone for only lots of dollars. So disruptive!

ImageGood luck with SEO, Coin

2) BitCoin! Do you have a friend who is struggling too much to keep their identity hidden while buying drugs or maybe sex slaves online? Then get them in on the Open Source P2P currency revolution that has Wall Streeters everywhere (particularly on Wall Street) throwing their hands into the air and proclaiming, “Gordon Gecko did not warn us about this newfangled technology!”

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3) Club membership! Do you have a friend whose entire existence is validated by the success of the people they know? For them you need look no further than a membership at The Battery, San Francisco’s latest addition to the exclusive club scene. A mere $2400 will afford your favorite social climber the ability to rub elbows with the self-proclaimed winners of Silicon Valley’s entirely fabricated tech hierarchy. They will thank you forever, as long as you continue to provide value to their network, of course.

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4) Microapartment! You know the phrase, “bigger is better”? Well forget about that, because when it comes to housing in San Francisco, “size doesn’t matter,” as long as that size is small. Scientists* have even postulated that the smaller your apartment is, the bigger your penis gets (I’m looking at you, women). Who needs a backyard when you can have 250 square feet of claustrophobia to call home on the weekends?

Image  *I made this up

5) Quadcopter! No sarcasm here. Quadcopters are neat. If you don’t believe me, then you better look at this.

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6) Google Glass! Is your friend an asshole, but constantly struggling with what kind of asshole they are? Fortunately the latest in wearable technology will make sure the world knows your friend is a bonafide Glasshole. All it will cost you is $1500 and a little dignity to make sure your friend can forcefully prove to the world that they are up to date on the newest gadgets.

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7) Tech pillows! Balancing your digital and real life has never been so attainable! Purchase any number of fun options to adorn your bed as a way to guarantee celibacy. And that’s not all the fun you can have – you can Facebook yourself sleeping on an Instagram pillow! Surf the Internet that is your dreams using a Google Chrome pillow! Smother your loved ones with whatever this is!

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If all of these options are too “mainstream” for your “friends,” I suggest going directly to the source to make sure they can be the first to find out about what’s new. For example, you can hack in to Google’s servers and check out what cool stuff they’re working on – your friends will no doubt visit you in prison to thank you profusely for making sure they were the first to be able to tweet about a new, irrelevant product!

No matter what route you go, you are sure to have a wonderful, wired holiday season where you and all your family members can all enjoy sitting in the same room while staring at your smartphones.

#Batkid Saves The Day

I’m on a plane flying home from LA right now. That means I just spent $6 to access internet for what will probably be a less than an hour flight. Normally I use my flight time as an exercise in unplugging so I can catch up on the books that normally collect dust next to my bed, but today is a different day.

Today is the day Batkid came to San Francisco.

Miles, a 5 year old boy who just beat leukemia this summer after battling it for many years, has become a superhero. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, famous for granting large and small wishes to kids with terminal illnesses has outdone itself by teaming up with the city of San Francisco to provide a real-life Batman experience for Miles. The idea was well-planned: they set up damsels in distress, Riddlers and Penguins whose plans Miles could foil, and obtained beautiful black Lamborghinis to deck out in all the coolest Batman gear. Miles was to go through the makeshift Gotham city saving the day again and again as Batkid and ultimately live his dream of being a superhero.

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But thanks to the power of social media, the Make-A-Wish Foundation was able to provide an amazing experience beyond just Miles and his family. Once the story hit the Internet a few weeks ago, this project found itself inundated with requests for volunteering, ending up with over 11,000 (!!) people asking to participate.

And then the day arrived. Today: November 15, 2013. Immediately #Batkid topped the Twitter trend list, and as of 2:30pm it has not yet come down.

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The Earth has literally mobilized. People all over the world are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, news sites – anything they can do to access this amazing story of people coming together to make one child smile. And in accessing it, people are sharing, giving those unable to be present (like myself) a glimpse into the heartwarming story that has spread itself to the far reaches of the Web.

In sharing through social media, people have surpassed the original goal of making Miles’ wish come true: #Batkid has created a makeshift Gotham community for the makeshift Gotham City. Except that it’s a real community. Millions of strangers are connecting worldwide to share in a story that makes them feel good about humanity and each other, and it’s a beautiful thing.

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For all that social media desensitizes us, saturates us, and provides us with a nonstop assault of information about shootings, killings, and all the bad things in the world, it can be used for good, too. It’s moments like these that prove how powerful a tool social media can be at bringing people together for the good of humanity, how it can provide a portal into the stories that help us keep going. In this particular case, a story about the insurmountable spirit of a little boy who never gave up even in the face of death. As @FunnyorDie puts it:

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Even if the Riddler is an actor, even if that black Lamborghini will go back into someone’s garage, there will be a lasting impact. People will remember this day.

Thank you #Batkid for truly and genuinely saving the day. You are a hero.

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Read the full story on Buzzfeed, where most of these photos are from (aggregated from the web).