COLUMN

San Francisco is imploding

By Mic Wright

When we heard yesterday that a Google employee had screamed entitled abuse at protestors we believed it. When it came out that the “Google employee” was a union organiser posing as a Googler to make a ham-fisted political point, we were not surprised. San Francisco is home to some of the most creative and fascinating companies in the world. It is also, like Mos Eisley, a hive of scum and villainy.

Venture capitalists who suck at the arteries of innovation and bleed entrepreneurs dry while growing fat like bloated ticks. Copycats and con artists who bring nothing but misery and theft. Hipsters who appropriate culture and turn it into neon plastic mockery.

Why weren’t we doubtful when the story seemed to be a Google employee screaming at protestors? Because that attitude of fast-vibrating, touchy entitlement flies out of the mouths of start-up employees and staff of the giants – Google, Facebook, Twitter – on a regular basis.

While the founders of those firms each attempt to gild their legacies with humanistic outpourings and huge charitable giving, the indulged masses they employ have become like technology’s Marie Antoinettes (or rather the popular misconception of poor Marie). They are certain that their intelligence and ability is a godly gift and that if only the poor people worked as hard as they do, all would have cake.

That attitude is fed by an obsequious tech press led by outlets such as TechCrunch and PandoDaily who pretend to criticise the “scene” while administering the sloppiest humjobs imaginable. They venerate rich kids who turn privileged backgrounds and first-class connections into venture capital invesetment while pretending that everyone is a Steve Jobs.

Jobs, asshole that he was, was adopted, had a daughter he refused to acknowledge for years, took prodigious amounts of LSD and dropped out of college.

He was able to write his phenomenal and now infamous Stanford commencement speech because he lived a rich, complex and sometimes tragic life. He is an example of what San Francisco does not want to admit: we are mortals. No matter your wealth we cannot cheat death yet. That hasn’t stopped Google creating a company in an attempt to do just that. It should be named Kubla Khan Incorporated. We need death to understand life.

Similarly a truly rich city – and I mean rich in terms of experience – needs a mix of economic, social, cultural, sexual and educational backgrounds. The technology aristocracy of San Francisco wants to cleanse the place of inconvenient people. Its dream is to have the poor, the unfortunate, the ugly moved out of town into satellite communities, shanty towns for the servants.

Eventually San Francisco would like to be done with those people entirely. It craves automation. No train drivers. No bus drivers. No cabbies. No cleaners. Just spotless robots programmed not to answer back to their perfect creators. The sick hubris of so many of these men is that their ultimate goal is to be gods on earth.

Another stark reality is that it is the moderately rich, by tech standards, and their enablers, that are the most offensively entitled. A story from The Summit/F.ounders:

One attendee – probably the most famous entrepreneur on the planet – found himself in Copperface Jacks, aka Coppers, the worst and yet most infamous meat market in Dublin. He chatted up a friend of mine who is in politics. She knew who he was but with typical Dubliner mischievousness refused to admit it. She called him the wrong name the whole night. And when she asked what he did, he replied humbly: “I’m an inventor and I run a few companies.”

The person in question doesn’t need to impress anyone. He is Iron Man.

Contrast that withe the posturing of someone like Dave “Two iPhones” Morin, whose Path product is a dud, or the arrogant swaggering of Joe Green. The common denominator? Both men are connected to Mark Zuckerberg but they lack the vision and abilities of the man himself. To be just good enough is a curse in San Francisco and one that sits heavily on men and women who are “almost visionaries”.

For another example, look to Sarah Lacy of PandoDaily, and her response to the BART strike. She said at the time: “If I had more friends who were BART drivers, I would probably be very sympathetic to their cause, and if they had more friends who were building companies they would probably realize we’re not all millionaires, and we’re actually working pretty hard to build something.

“People in the tech industry feel like life is a meritocracy. You work really hard, you build something and you create something, which is sort of directly opposite to unions.”

If the monstrous Lacy had more friends who were BART drivers she would realise that people are people. If Sarah Lacy had more friends who were BART drivers PandoDaily would read more like something written by humans and not flesh avatars for the venture capital industry. Many unions are distorted and destructive organisations now. The organiser pretending to be a Google employee is a prime example of that.

But unions for low-paid workers are necessary. The tech industry often mistakes taking away rights and protections from the low-paid for “disruption”. It’s disruptive in the most literal sense to leave people without jobs and to introduce more danger into their lives in order to increase your profit margins.

Tom Dale, the co-creator of Ember.js, put it perfectly in an article entitled “San Francisco I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”: “The brobdingnagian salaries we’re getting paid haven’t just skewed the market; they’ve taken it in two hands, turned it upside down, and shaken it like a British nanny.

“My friends who are not in technology keep getting pushed further and further away, or into smaller, dingier accommodations.”

San Francisco runs the risk of becoming a city for the super-rich where anyone who chooses to do something beyond hustling for VC funding and turning around their startup for a big pay off is shit out of luck.

Innovators, disruptors, marketeers, PR-shills-posing-as-journalists, listen well: creativity is powered by variety of experience. If all you see is cunts like you, you’ll only produce products that cunts like you will use. Thankfully for all of us, cunts like you are a vanishingly small market.