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.

The Collaborative Econo-me

3DPrinter

What’s next?

This question plagues business people at every level, particularly due to the swiftly changing technological landscape that has characterized the market over the past few years. The power of prediction is a valuable tool in a marketer’s pocket, and it can mean the difference between being the number one recognized brand in an industry, and bankruptcy. The stakes are high in this “age of the customer,” as Forrester’s George Colony calls it, with customers demanding more transparency from the agencies that supply their products while entrepreneurs constantly rewrite what is expected of a company to provide to their consumers.

Jeremiah O_0

There is one trend that stands out among the rest, as evidenced by being a running theme throughout the presentations given at LeWeb Paris this year. This trend was categorized by Jeremiah Owyang, Chief Catalyst & Founder of the brand new Crowd Companies with idea of a collaborative economy.

This concept describes a marketplace in which consumers directly influence the products they purchase and the companies they patronize. Companies like U-haul and GE are recognizing the power of the consumer in the marketplace by giving individuals investment power and using the crowd to creative innovation.

The collaborative economy also includes the concept that more and more consumers are relying on themselves and their community to get the things they want, through means such as 3D printing and services like Etsy.com. This trend was born out of the Maker Movement, a cultural innovation that has given consumers freedom from manufacturing through personal fabrication.

Brit Morin

This DIY mentality is sweeping the marketplace, with platforms like Pinterest perpetuating the know-how for everyone to create the things they want and events like Maker Faire empowering users to cultivate a more hands-on approach to the products they use. This mentality has surpassed the individual level and seeped into the corporate world, establishing an expectation among consumers that companies will respond to the changes people want in their products, as vocalized through the many social media platforms available today.

Ultimately this trend allows people to rely on themselves to get the things they need, creating a personalized Econo-Me for anyone who is interested. With access to information and sharing becoming a cultural necessity, it is no surprise that people are quickly learning how to literally make the products that are important to them rather than relying on commercial manufacturing. As this consumer landscape shifts, the corporate landscape must shift as well: the organizations that recognize this and make the crowd part of their business models will end up being successful, and everyone will be better off for it.

#techieproblems

I have a degree in linguistics, and I don’t use it for anything, so I give you an article about words so that I feel the debt my family went into to put me through college is justified.

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The latest complaint to come out of the tech community is use of the word, “techie” (see photo above) to describe individuals who work in the technology industry. Sounds pretty harmless, right? WRONG!

I’m sorry to tell you, but using this word makes you worse than Hitler according to people interviewed in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article. Hitler may have killed millions of people, but he would never stoop so low as to refer to someone by an innocuous term that no one even knew was offensive. Okay I’m being dramatic, but my point is that I don’t think the term “techie” is as big of a deal as some are claiming, and ultimately it doesn’t matter anyway.

Now, of course I believe words are important. Imperative and paramount, even. You can find me silently searching for the right word to express myself unaware that my friends have moved on to other conversations, and possibly other locations as well. Certain words have the ability to carry with them centuries of meaning, giving them a power one could not imagine to be attributed to a series of technically-arbitrary phonemes. Techie is not one of those words.

Let’s ignore the fact that the journalist who wrote this had to dig to the bottom of the (coffee) barrel to find people who have a strong opinion on the word “techie.” In reality, true entrepreneurs don’t have the bandwidth to waste on this brand of nonsense. People who are trying to change the world do not sit around trying to project what strangers think of them based on word choice. Those who are offended by the name “techie,” are likely to embody the negative characteristics that they perceive to come with the term, in that they don’t give back to the community that’s making them wealthy, they have no awareness or concern of their impact on people around them, and their end-goal is to create a profitable business rather than a fantastic product.

techie-is-just-another-word-for-ninja_design

And why focus on the individual word – isn’t the connotation the important part? Whether you’re called a “techie,” a “hacker,” or a “raging douchebag,” what matters is what the speaker means.  If you don’t like the implications of a word, chances are you identify with the negative components of its perceived definition, which in this case is not a definition that everyone has collectively agreed upon. And if we are going to spend time worrying if our words hurt others, perhaps there are other minorities besides wealthy, elite software engineers that deserve that energy. Though the SF Chronicle article does posit that the current struggle for non-discriminatory terms is THE SAME as the struggle experienced by Mexican immigrants, so it’s possible I’m misguided.

Maybe instead of focusing on whether or not a word qualifies as pejorative, we can turn our energy inwards and ask ourselves if we are exemplifying the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that has paved the way for us to be able to sit in a coffee shop on a weekday with glorious machines at our fingertips. If the answer is that you simply don’t want to be thrown into this ideal that strips you of your individual identity then make the world know who you are. Show them that a techie is not just a follower, but an innovator, someone who thinks about the problems of the world and how to fix them. Labels don’t matter. What you do matters.

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.