After many years of authoring multiple text-based blogs, I made a command decision – for many good reasons – to switch to strictly pictures. This post represents merely a brief departure. But I finally decided to put my thoughts together, because the incident at Molotov’s crystallized, for me, a way in which a lot of folks seem to be misconstruing the divide that’s plaguing our city.
Our differences are not about “tech” versus “anti-tech.” They’re about “good people” versus “jerks.”
I’ve lived in the Bay Area for more than half my life now, as have many of my friends. Many of them either work in “tech” or in some industry that is fed by tech money. Many others are public school teachers, lawyers, accountants, professional translators, and other “non-tech” jobs. What I’d like to think we all have in common is a desire to be good people, who care about San Francisco and the people in it (including those who are being priced out), and have decided to make it our home over the long term.
What we have seen is an influx, in the past few years, of a good number of “jerks.” I would define “jerks” as people who: (1) View their residence in SF as a short-term period of “fun,” (2) tend to be on the younger side and without many responsibilities, (3) feel that they “deserve” whatever material and other gains they get because they somehow “work harder” than people who, for example, teach public school or risk their lives fighting fires, and (4) don’t have the social skills/experience to conduct themselves in a way that is sensitive to the environment in which they’re in and is respectful to those around them.
Yes, SF has seen a resurgence in tech the past couple of years. That’s great news, because I am seeing fewer of my friends – who work in both tech and non-tech jobs – suffering through the uncertainty and fear of unemployment. But the flip side is that the tech industry in particular tends to attract a higher-than-average percentage of “jerks,” because it sometimes (sometimes!) promises the potential for what we used to call “winning the dot-com lottery” in exchange for (often) a 24/7 work commitment. As a result, if you look at the numbered points of my definition above, we get people who moved to SF not because they love the city, but because they want to get rich (#1 above), and who have the freedom to work 14 hours a day when necessary (#2 above). Often, they come from a privileged background (leading to #3 above). Additionally, for whatever reason, skill in programming often (NOT always!!!) seems to correlate to lower-than-average emotional intelligence, leading to #4 above.
That doesn’t mean that there are not many, many good people who work in tech. It just means that the past couple of years have skewed our jerks-to-good people ratio, and we’re noticing. When someone walks into a place like Molotov’s with a $1500 gadget on his or her face that is both (1) easy to steal and (2) possibly recording the embarrassing behavior of patrons in a dive bar for public distribution, you end up with jerks on both sides. Because everyone in that situation was being a jerk, regardless of whether they were “pro-tech” or “anti-tech,” and regardless of who was being a jerk first. (At least, that’s how the reports read, I wasn’t there.)
My point in writing this is that there is hope for the jerks, and framing it as a “tech” versus “anti-tech” dichotomy just sets up an “us” versus “them” dynamic that is not what’s going to turn them around. Instead, it’s a false dichotomy that turns *all* of us into jerks – and the Molotov’s situation is the perfect example. Light-heartedly calling out the jerks in their moments of jerkiness, so that they can recognize and improve their behavior, is very different from vilifying an entire industry that is made up of (mostly) good people. There have always been jerks in SF – well, at least since the Gold Rush — and there always will be. And it has always been the responsibility of good people to lead by example and not, by trying to teach the jerks a lesson, turn into jerks themselves.
I have faith that the good people of this city can come together and make sure that the changes to SF happen in a way that is as organized and as fair as possible, and by coming up with creative and collaborative solutions to preserve the character of the city, address the issue of mass evictions, and help SF grow in a way that’s good for everyone — not just the wealthy. We’re not going to accomplish that by laying our problems at the feet of “tech” or by casting an entire industry as the enemy, because then we’re just a city of jerks.
That’s not the future I want for San Francisco. Do you?
[This post will self-destruct after a bit.]