Join 3,574 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Bacon-Wrapped Economy
March 24, 2013 11:03 AM   Subscribe

The Bacon-Wrapped Economy, or how the rise of a new elite of wealthy, predominantly twentysomething, software engineers and startup founders is changing the San Francisco Bay Area's economy and culture.

The economic effects of gentrification, of soaring costs of living and previous generations of residents being priced out are predictable enough, and similar things have been happening since the .com boom of the 1990s. The cultural effects of the rise of an elite who are in their 20s, oriented towards the internet, the counterculture and Ayn Rand-influenced market-essentialist values, and not encultured in the value system of the old money they are displacing, have been more interesting, from falling support for traditional art museums and orchestras in favour of hip street art, indie rock and the pursuit of “lulz”, and the decline of traditional philanthropy in favour of Kickstarter-style crowdsourcing, with its market-oriented values and continuous feedback, through to the attire by which the elite signal their status to those in the know, things like $100-plus “dress pants sweatpants”, which are at once superficially casual-seeming and yet expensive and discernable indicators of wealth and being in the know, through to an entire economy of disruptive service industries.
posted by acb (134 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
This does resonate with the tales of 20-something Bay Area tech yuppies that I've heard from my friends who associate with such folks.

It doesn't seem very happy.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:15 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's been weird watching the changes to Oakland over the last few years. I think overall rents here went up 10-15% just this past year. It used to be people would say, "You live where?" now those same people are looking at the (gated) condo "communities" that are popping up everywhere.
posted by bradbane at 11:30 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that the shunning of traditional arts institutions is something confined just to rich dot-com entrepreneurial twentysomethings. Orchestra, opera, fine art museums, and the like don't appeal much to the majority of broke twentysomethings either.

True, this is an unusually high influx of cash to a group that is itself then not turning around and donating to traditional arts organizations, but that fact is not necessarily something caused by the dot-com boom. Correlation is not causation.

(Yes, I know that there are plenty of 20-somethings who do appreciate the opera and symphonies and fine arts; I was one of them. But on the whole, those tend to draw older crowds and always have.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Re: the Bay Lights: "also perhaps tellingly, it's viewable only from San Francisco, not the East Bay"

This is not true. In fact it's sort of bizarrely not true. If you're standing in downtown S.F., in many places, the whole new span is behind Yerba Buena island.

There are other questionable assertions in this article--focusing on Betabrands as a status marker is, frankly, just weird. I'm very receptive to essays about the effect of a large number of suddenly wealthy people in the Bay Area, it's an important subject. This essay seems off to me.
posted by feckless at 11:35 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Feckless, the Bay Lights are on the old western span. You can pretty much only see them from north of Market in SF.
posted by migurski at 11:40 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This essay seems off to me.

Especially the ego stroking use of the adjective "elite". Protip: if you have to work to survive you are not elite.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 11:40 AM on March 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


Er, so I'm totally wrong about the Bay Lights. Nevermind.
posted by feckless at 11:41 AM on March 24, 2013


Having spent 10 years in the Bay Area tech industry and still pretty connected to it, I feel these kinds of articles always overstate the Randroid/libertarian crowd size.

Unquestionably they are overrepresented compared to society at large, but they are in my experience still a definite minority of techies. Most tech workers I know/knew are more generic Clinton Democrat types --- socially liberal, fiscally moderate-to-conservative, but still believe in government and universal health care and other mainstream Democratic principles. Few socialists, but few libertarians too.

Even more than that, I would say most are just not very political at all.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:41 AM on March 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


(Well, not totally, because you can see them from El Cerrito. But I did have the wrong span. Oops.)
posted by feckless at 11:42 AM on March 24, 2013


Is it already time for the monthly" the wrong sort - unhip, uncool - are moving in and ruining our wonderland" discussion about tech workers in { SF, Oakland, Austin, ... }?
posted by rr at 11:48 AM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also: "and the people who work for them are all invested in the idea that the world is a better place because of them" made me laugh. This wildly underestimates the amount of cynicism engineers have. There are some of these starry-eyed optimist types, but I think they are vastly outnumbered by the bitter and cynical (in fact I think there are way too many of those and there _should_ be more of the optimist types). Probably on the "entrepreneur" side you get more of that, but those are a small % of the overall tech crowd of course.

(and when I said "universal healthcare" above I should be clear I mean of the 'somehow we should expand coverage to everyone' type not necessarily single-payer or anything. Most want to keep the kinds of plans they have, but also are sympathetic/willing to do something to expand coverage to all Americans. That sort of middle-ground liberalism is quite common).

And the large number of techies in their late 20s and 30s tend to spend a lot of time at work or home playing games or with their families, they aren't hanging out in bars in the Mission. That is indeed a mostly young 20s crowd, and their sense of social responsiblity often changes once they have kids and are more integrated into society, at least I've observed this in many of my peers who act quite different as mid-30s techies than we did as early-20s ones.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:51 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You are not elite unless you are an elf assassin level 40 or higher.
posted by Nomyte at 11:53 AM on March 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


Having spent 10 years in the Bay Area tech industry and still pretty connected to it, I feel these kinds of articles always overstate the Randroid/libertarian crowd size.

This has been my experience as well. Granted, most of my "tech elite" friends are turning 30, but they while they are skeptical of some aspects of traditional large government interventions, they largely support liberal causes and vote Democrat.

The bacon thing... Well, who doesn't love bacon? If I still had the metabolism for it, I'd put it in everything too!
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:54 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are good hard numbers about the randroid crowd in SF tech. Google employees donate on a ratio of roughly 20:1 democrats over republicans. From the NYT:
Among employees who work for Google, Mr. Obama received about $720,000 in itemized contributions this year, compared with only $25,000 for Mr. Romney. That means that Mr. Obama collected almost 97 percent of the money between the two major candidates.

Apple employees gave 91 percent of their dollars to Mr. Obama. At eBay, Mr. Obama received 89 percent of the money from employees.

Over all, among the 10 American-based information technology companies on Fortune’s list of “most admired companies,” Mr. Obama raised 83 percent of the funds between the two major party candidates.
Yes, the randroids are loud, and yes, some fraction of the Obama donors probably qualify as bleeding heart liberaltarians rather than Serious Old-School Liberals acceptable to this author. But it's still pretty damn liberal.
posted by louie at 11:56 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it already time for the monthly discussion

It's been almost two months since the last one, so I guess we were overdue.
posted by xil at 11:56 AM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


…if you have to work to survive you are not elite.

That’s totally not what elite means.

The tech economy is where SF’s money currently flows strongest. The tech community is apolitical in the sense that they don’t think community dynamics of any kind matter much (a form of Colbert-style colorblindness), and so are happy to rest easy in the knowledge that their success is individually deserved. That’s the Randoid part. I think the Obama campaign and the Prop E are the only contexts where I’ve seen this crowd engage politically.

I worked in the Mission District daily from 2003 to 2012 and currently live in Uptown Oakland, so I watched nine years worth of this change. I’m split about its effects; it’s nice to have nice things and because I can afford to eat out semi-regularly I don’t view this all as other, but I’m also appalled by the speed and totality of the change on the SF side and participated in a project investigating the transportation aspect of the shift.
posted by migurski at 11:56 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


And as one of the tech industry folks who actually goes to the SF Ballet, SF Symphony, etc., one of the more irritating things about their fundraising is the sense of entitlement - if you've bought tickets, they assume you (1) must be wealthy and (2) have some sort of moral obligation to support something that is primarily the work of dead white men performed for audiences that are predominately nearly-dead white men (and women). I've got much worthier charitable causes to give to than that.
posted by louie at 11:59 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


That term "elite" is uncomfortable here, because, as AElfwine Evenstar points out, aside from a few exceptions at the very, very top, tech industry people aren't elites themselves — even though sometimes they get to touch their money. I think it's more useful to think of them as an "aristocracy of labor" — they're the laborers that get some of the benefits from the superexploitation of other laborers, and whose lives serve as a symbol/brass ring for young strivers from the laboring classes who like to pretend that they're autonomous individuals.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:02 PM on March 24, 2013 [19 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "they're the laborers that get some of the benefits from the superexploitation of more exploited laborers in exchange for providing special benefits for the elite"

You're basically defining a category of tech house negroes, then?
posted by meehawl at 12:04 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


meehawl: I hesitate to use that analogy, because it's not bidirectional. Given that no one would say "house negroes under American slavery lived like tech workers in the contemporary bay area," it seems inappropriate to say "tech workers in the bay area live like house negroes under slavery."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:09 PM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


In the sense that the wage system is the same as chattel slavery, sure.
posted by hattifattener at 12:09 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


ctrl+F: bacon Phrase not found.
ctrl+F: hot dog Phrase not found.

Huh? This is probably some metaphoric bacon, then... anyway... *reads article*
More and more people in tech are making huge amounts of money, and people aren't curing cancer because it's not an attractive thing to do.
Damn. But younger companies are doing that right? It isn't just the Gates Foundation or Google.org , right?
posted by raihan_ at 12:10 PM on March 24, 2013


anecdote anecdote anecdote anecdote anecdote. anecdote.

I'd really like to know where all this insane wealth is hiding. According to the article, I should be immersed in it, as I live in the Mission and work at a tech company in SOMA. Many of my friends are engineers, like myself.

Do I see any evidence of insane wealth? No. Or if anyone I know is that wealthy, they're certainly keeping quiet about it. I know quite a few people who have good jobs. None of them will ever be "wealthy". In fact, few could afford to buy a house or condo here. But if their company got bought or whatever, that's probably what they'd try to do. Thing is, at least in software engineering, starting salaries are high, but there's definitely a plateaus. After certain point, you're fighting for ever extra $10K that get's tacked on to your salary. Much like any other industry, I'd guess. And then of course there's the constant fear that your skills will stagnate, and the looming question of where to go next, careerwise. After all, there's only room for so many managers and architects.

I've definitely been to some extravagant company parties, but the fact these articles always miss is that the parties are thrown by companies, with VC money. Companies pour money into these events to attract talent. It doesn't mean they necessarily pay their employees better than a company that doesn't throw these kind of parties. And it's not like these are private parties thrown by the engineers themselves.

So yeah, I dunno. This article is really all over the place. I can't really take it seriously because it's talking about all sorts of trends without using any evidence to back them up, and recycling the same lazy tropes that we've been seeing forever : techies are uncultured, techies are too young, techies make too much money, techies are selfish, techies like weird/quirky things, etc.

And what it all comes down to is TECHIES ARE RUINING OUR CITY! And yeah, I think it's all a bunch of crap. SF should be glad to have a vibrant, functioning economy. Lots of US cities don't -- like the one I'm from, for example. And really, if you look at NYC, where the main industry is finance, or LA, where the main industry is entertainment, it's actually kinda nice to live someplace where the main industry is tech -- even if it means you have to occasionally read articles full of regurgitated new-money phobia, like this one.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:12 PM on March 24, 2013 [25 favorites]


I'm not sure that the shunning of traditional arts institutions is something confined just to rich dot-com entrepreneurial twentysomethings. Orchestra, opera, fine art museums, and the like don't appeal much to the majority of broke twentysomethings either.

True, this is an unusually high influx of cash to a group that is itself then not turning around and donating to traditional arts organizations, but that fact is not necessarily something caused by the dot-com boom. Correlation is not causation.


I think that's true, but I think what the article is getting at is the idea that those institutions' survival now depends on exactly such people, people who if they don't themselves find something cool and appealing, see no reason to support it. Whereas before the type of people who gave money to the symphony gave because on the whole they thought their city should have a symphony. Or a museum, etc. The idea of supporting something because it ought to exist, not because you personally dig it. The peeps who funded the Veronica Mars movie did so because it was their favorite show and they wanted it made. This is rather different from, say, giving money to a film school to use for a young artists program in the hope that, in general, talented filmmakers who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity get to make films. The former is about fulfilling a specific taste, the latter about encouraging more of that art form to exist in general.


In re: randoids and the prevalence thereof --- in fact, the piece touches on libertarians only glancingly and at the end. I'm sure it would be comforting, if I were a techie type in the Bay, to look at this piece and think the author was only talking about libertairians, because then they could be dismissed, because they obviously don't understand that most techie types aren't libertarians. But as I read it, anyway, the author's quibble isn't with libertarians at all --- it's with the apolitical and naive, the people content to live in a bubble and hunker down and code all day and half the night and buy their $200 backpacks and never question what affect their actions have upon others, what changes they're wreaking on the world.
posted by Diablevert at 12:13 PM on March 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


The author of the article expresses surprise about the number of techies who are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and to me that fits with the idea of wealth-as-freedom-to-take-on-risk. These people are generally not visibly wealthy, but they do have significantly higher paychecks than other parts of the economy, and combined with their relative youth and inexperience those paychecks tend to flow toward fun-sounding Kickstarters, $200 bags, and thoughtless eating out instead of longer-term goals like savings, investment, or supporting arts organizations. It’s very much a gold rush or lottery-driven economy, and we haven’t yet hit upon the Levis or Stanfords who accumulate structural wealth.

What was so fascinating about the previous dot-com crash was the build up and the speed. It went gradually, then all at once. People were flash-frozen in whatever state of employment they had in 2000/01: contractors had to fall back on savings, the lucky and connected squeaked into a Google or Yahoo.

I await our next one with a mixture of excitement and dread. It will be terrifying for a lot of people, but during the 2000-2007(ish) years a lot of really interesting things got done, much more so than now.
posted by migurski at 12:27 PM on March 24, 2013


This sucked the last time around, and it's starting to really suck again. I appreciate the money that comes into local government budgets, but the extent to which a "booming tech economy" improves the quality of life here in SF is dramatically overstated, from the perspective of someone who doesn't work in that industry. We lose a lot each time this happens, and I'm not really sure it's worth it.
posted by gingerbeer at 12:31 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whereas before the type of people who gave money to the symphony gave because on the whole they thought their city should have a symphony.

Is that actually true? Our city's symphony is primarily attended by donors - they themselves enjoy the symphony and want to see it stick around.

There are a few who do it for the cachet with other local elites, but the majority of the city either can't or doesn't have any interaction with the symphony in a given year. The price of tickets and the protocol is something that boxes out average people, which is what separates it from, say, donating to have a park built or something that's 100% accessible.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2013


"After more than a year of intense focus at City Hall on housing homeless families - and more than $2 million in private donations - the waiting list for homeless parents and children searching for shelter has ballooned. The list hit 268 families last month, the all-time peak since the statistic began being tracked seven years ago."

Here's the search from craigslist for all the 0-1 BR rentals in San Francisco with a maximum rent of 1,000. Eighteen results.
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


"$100-plus “dress pants sweatpants”

Maybe some of these will filter down to goodwill, cause I'd wear the hell out of them.
posted by aerotive at 12:34 PM on March 24, 2013


Isn't there, among traditional elites, an ideal of noblesse obligé; i.e., that by virtue of being a Captain of Industry, it is one's duty to champion and support Culture and Civilisation by endowing university chairs in one's name, sponsoring the local art museum and philharmonic, and such, especially if the state has no business taxing the hell out of you and using the money to let some committee of bureaucrats organise a gallery by consensus?
posted by acb at 12:39 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm curious why everyone keeps referring to the SF tech economy as a "bubble" and are so sure that a 2000-style crash is imminent.

The only "bubble" I've seen in the last few years was the whole thing with Groupon and "deals" sites. But I think most of those have folded or been acquired at this point, and people are back to doing useful things with their lives.

Anyway, I'm not saying there won't be another tech crash. But I think it's far from a sure thing. The national and global economy requires tech workers, and the Bay area is where lots of us want to live. In fact, from what I saw, the tech sector was one of the least-harmed in the most recent recession. Why? Because the economy needs us.

Sure, there's speculation going on. It's part of the ecosystem. However, from what I've read, the VCs aren't being any more generous with the Series A funding than they've ever been, even if seed money -- which isn't usually very much -- is a little easier to come by. So no, this does not seem to be a repeat of the "irrational exuberance" over-speculation of the 90s. Not from what I can see, anyway.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


rtha: note that all but a couple of those results fall into one of the following three categories:
  1. Rooms for rent accidentally listed as apartments for rent
  2. Rooms in SRO hotels
  3. and
  4. obvious scams
The other ones are very small studio apartments in either the tenderloin (a neighborhood that's sketchy but will get expensive soon) or the outer sunset (which is a suburb in all but name, given how long it takes to get to the city from there via public transit).

That said, there is actually one apartment on that list that is a for reals studio apartment with a bathroom and a kitchen and everything for under 1000 dollars. Which sort of stuns me; it's one more superficially decent apartment than I'd expect would turn up for that search.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:47 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some firsthand experience here regarding the housing market becoming monopolized (read unaffordable) once again courtesy of tech boomers. Due to a job transfer, we had to sell our modest Berkeley bungalow a few months ago. It sold the 3rd day on the market, to a gaming engineer and his wife -- for 25% over the asking price - and 18% over the next highest offer. Mind you, Berkeley's a good 1-hour drive to the beginning of the Silicon Valley sprawl.
So, yay for us, but I feel for those struggling young families trying to get out of cramped city apartments and bad neighborhoods.
posted by memewit at 12:50 PM on March 24, 2013


Anyway, I'm not saying there won't be another tech crash. But I think it's far from a sure thing

As someone who started my career during the late 90's bubble/boom, I agree. Sure there is a lot of money floating around, but in the "original" tech bubble you didn't need users, a plan, or even a product. Just a company name starting with e or i or something. Companies had wildly successful IPOs on the basis of nothing at all.

Whereas now you have something like Facebook, which while its not making money like Google or Apple is a real thing with a lot of users and at least some monetization, and it didn't run away with an IPO frenzy. If the Facebook IPO thing had happened in 1999 it would have been very different.

Many companies will fail, but I think a huge bubble-burst of the kind we saw in 2000 is unlikely, because investors understand the industry and potential better. The "all the old rules don't apply!" mentality of the late 90's is not there to anywhere the same level.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also: I wonder whether there's some sort of philosophical nexus between Randian/libertarian/Friedmanite/market-essentialist thinking and test-driven development (taken to almost religious levels at Google and elsewhere) and/or agile software development, in terms of feedback loops, being willing to fail/backtrack, the weighing of feedback above any sort of traditional notions of idealism/purism/integrity, and such.
posted by acb at 12:58 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


if you have to work to survive you are not elite.

That's no longer true. In the Gilded Age (1870s-1890s) only one-fifth of the income of the plutocracy came from wages; today, it's more like three-fourths. Their wages may be ludicrously overinflated, but they're still work-related, not investment-related (although for a large segment of the plutocracy work IS investment, as they are "in finance").

Of course, we're not really talking about the plutocrats here, though the absence of tech CEO names from the walls of traditional arts institutions is a part of the discussion (here in Seattle, our famous plutocrats give their money instead to repulsive juvenile horsecrap like the EMP). But this article, and my own impression, is about the more ordinarily rich -- tech people who earn $200,000 a year, not $200,000,000.

But that's still close to the 1% (about halfway there, actually). And the distortion these people, and those immediately below them but still WAY, WAY above the national median, cause in San Francisco (a city I've loved to visit for close to forty years) is indeed extreme. The entire city seems to be composed of nothing but young, trendy people, and the only older people you see are the Chinese in the Richmond district. The black people who used to be part of the city's culture are gone; increasingly, so are the Latinos in the Mission (with a couple of marketing people living in what used to be their garage). And everywhere, the masses of older middle-class or, god forbid, working-class people have disappeared entirely. The only diners and dive bars are post-ironic or whatever it's called, serving $13 cocktails and good old-fashioned working-class fare like mac'n'cheese-- only it's $15 a plate now.

The weirdest thing to me is how San Francisco has in large part turned into a bedroom community for hipsters, with all the cool kids lining up behind their Beats by Dre to get on the (privately run) shuttle out to the suburban campus of Google or Apple or Facebook. This is true in Seattle, too, where Microsoft's exurban campus and its private shuttle still exert a strong pull outward every morning.

What's happened to house prices -- sale and rent -- in just the past year alone is really remarkable, and I would be worried about it if I lived there. Is SF a boutique society now?

It seems like the country is turning into completely segregated zones of rich hipsters, struggling immigrants, and left-behind Wal-Mart shoppers, none of whom have anything to say to each other. If you are not in one of those groups, or you are stuck in the midst of the wrong group, you're really going to hate the future.
posted by Fnarf at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2013 [27 favorites]


Also, I'm curious why everyone keeps referring to the SF tech economy as a "bubble" and are so sure that a 2000-style crash is imminent.

If the question is "Will there be a gigantic crash in the near term?" the answer is "Probably not." If the question is "Will there be a crash soon-ish?" the answer is almost always "Yes."
posted by incessant at 1:00 PM on March 24, 2013


It seems like the country is turning into completely segregated zones of rich hipsters, struggling immigrants, and left-behind Wal-Mart shoppers, none of whom have anything to say to each other. If you are not in one of those groups, or you are stuck in the midst of the wrong group, you're really going to hate the future.

no, all three of those groups are really going to hate the future because you have conveniently ignored the biggest hog at the trough- the retiring boomers.
posted by spicynuts at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The weirdest thing to me is how San Francisco has in large part turned into a bedroom community for hipsters, with all the cool kids lining up behind their Beats by Dre to get on the (privately run) shuttle out to the suburban campus of Google or Apple or Facebook.

And I think this article is indeed focusing on "those" kinds of tech workers in many ways [especially when talking about impact on restaurants, etc]. But really, the majority live in Silicon Valley / San Jose, not San Francisco. If you write about tech workers from an SF city perspective, thats not wrong, but keep in mind that its a very self-selected group that does not represent the majority of tech workers. It is disproportionately young and extroverted (if you want to go out a lot, you live in SF. If you want to play board games with your friends, you're better off living in Sunnyvale or something and getting 4x the space for the same price).
posted by wildcrdj at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


After certain point, you're fighting for ever extra $10K that get's tacked on to your salary.

That you can dismiss ten thousand dollars as a minor salary increase makes you significantly better off than most people I know.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:17 PM on March 24, 2013 [34 favorites]


The weirdest thing to me is how San Francisco has in large part turned into a bedroom community for hipsters, with all the cool kids lining up behind their Beats by Dre to get on the (privately run) shuttle out to the suburban campus of Google or Apple or Facebook.

while I agree with your larger point, these people are not hipsters. Real hipsters have been getting priced out of the Mission and moving to Oakland for the last several years.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:18 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


the retiring boomers

Oh, God, now I'm really depressed.

Actually I think the retiring boomers are mostly going to be in the "Wal-Mart shoppers" group, because they're going to find that they can't afford retirement, especially if they live in a place that's even a tiny bit groovy, so they will have to sell up and move to Oil Trough, Arkansas and live in a wooden crate.
posted by Fnarf at 1:19 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it already time for the monthly" the wrong sort - unhip, uncool - are moving in and ruining our wonderland" discussion about tech workers in { SF, Oakland, Austin, ... }?--rr

That would be particularly silly in the SF Bay Area. The tech industry has been growing since Hewlett Packard started in 1939!

And heck, before the Gold Rush in the 1850s, there were really only a small handful of people in San Francisco. Soon afterwards, there were hundreds of thousands.

Young people moving into the area because of money making opportunities has always been the norm.
posted by eye of newt at 1:20 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Explaining the bubble:
I recently witnessed a presentation on tech speculation, talking about the size of a particular developer, what their business was, and how much market share they had. They later talked about their growth rate, and laid out a base plan for what their aspirational business was in the next few years. Following their growth rate, even allowing for some slowing, the time to double was indicated at a pretty surprising date. From there, they showed how they intended to diversify to help achieve these growth targets. It looked all well and good, and sounded convincing. I walked away with something not sitting right.

I then looked at the growth rate of their industry, which was well below what their unique growth rate was. At their planned growth rate, they would claim a massive share in relatively short order. That also didn't seem to feel right.

Then I looked at the growth rate of the industry, and expanded that over the developer's growth rate. The two lines intersected, not in a good way - meaning that the developer's assumptions for growth exceeded that of the entire industry. This basically meant the growth expectations originally presented were way off - that there would likely be some level of cap, and that basing the business strategy on their growth plans were untenable.

Tech companies see their growth, and plan for a certain part of their future, but the reality is that maintaining a grand slam on every product launch, and continually expanding the market is nigh impossible. Since 2000, Apple has been an exception. Even so, today their stock price is increasingly called into question - because there isn't enough of a market left for them to expand into. They are nearly against their cap, meaning that even with their next great product, they won't continue to gain market - just maintain relevance.

Multiply this out a couple thousand times over, and this is the internet economy. Someone races to the top of their market, they expand assuming they won't hit an economic cap, and bam they wind up in irrelevancy, shutting their doors a few minutes later.

Basing stock purchases on such companies means that you can do well to a point, but if you're smart, you're pulling out just before they crash - and that means, you exacerbate the crash effect for each of these companies... Speeding them to their grave.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


It is equal parts hilarious and sad that "donating to Obama" is viewed as "pretty damned liberal".
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


That you can dismiss ten thousand dollars as a minor salary increase makes you significantly better off than most people I know

Wow, thanks for reading something into my words that I didn't actually say! Would you like to make the rest of this comment for me as well, since you seem to know so much about me?

My point is that, while tech workers may have a relatively high starting salary, ANY salary increase is something you have to fight for. And there's a very real plateus level that's really hard to get past. And I guess you missed the rest of my comment where I mentioned anxieties about stagnating skills and career path?

But no, we're all a bunch of Richie Riches, wiping our asses with hundred dollar bills while we laugh at you and your friends.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:24 PM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


these people are not hipsters

Well, to you they're not, but to aliens from Mars they are. They take their cues from hipster culture. Like the article says, they'd rather "look at a cool stencil on the street". They wear and hoodies (friggin' Mark Zuckerberg wears hoodies). They carry their stuff in an expensive backpack, not an expensive briefcase. The modern urban-rich experience is all about fetishing the culture of poor people and the "underground", only in safe, expensive versions of it (the $13 boilermaker).

They're livin' the life, with all the money in the world, living in the coolest city in the world. You can't really blame them (well, I blame that dork in the untucked blue shirt and baggy jeans, that's just tragic). I mean, they grew up wanting exactly this -- I'M FINALLY COOL NOW, I HAVE THIRTY KINDS OF SINGLE MALT IN MY MISSION APARTMENT AND SNOOP LION WAS AT THE COMPANY PARTY. I wanted to be all that once, too, but I couldn't afford it. I suspect that a lot of those folks won't be able to afford it for long, either. But in the meantime, everything that makes San Francisco cool in the first place has disappeared -- it's a museum.
posted by Fnarf at 1:32 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Let's keep it cool. Any discussion about money and hipsterism is touchy; if we're going to have this discussion here it needs to not get personal.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:35 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


ANY salary increase is something you have to fight for.

Every COLA I've gotten for the past five years has been more than subsumed in increasing health care costs; my check is going DOWN. I'm not fighting for a salary increase; I'm trying to keep my job. And I'm doing really well compared to the average American, whose wages have been slowly disappearing since the 70s.

Nobody accused you of wiping your ass with hundred-dollar bills. But don't make the mistake of thinking you're not doing a lot better than most people if you're even dreaming of $10,000 raises. Most people are more likely to suddenly shoot up two feet in height in a single day than they are to even know a person who just got a $10K raise.
posted by Fnarf at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


But no, we're all a bunch of Richie Riches, wiping our asses with hundred dollar bills while we laugh at you and your friends.

But you (we) ARE a bunch of Richie Riches. It may not feel that way (in part thanks to the exorbitant rents), but the fact that starting salaries are so high means that, yes, we're all pretty damn well off, even if we aren't dropping five grand on a new bike every month, and even if we're not at the level of wealth where you don't have to work.
posted by kenko at 1:37 PM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


… but then, I'm the sort of person who thinks a lot of the nouveau riche, and aspiring-to-be-nouveau-riche, culture in SF is just extraordinarily tacky.
posted by kenko at 1:39 PM on March 24, 2013


the retiring boomers.

This is the only thing I've heard my "three generations deep San Fransiscian" relatives complain about, that big sections of the city are turning into defacto retirement communities that don't like voting for schools or long-term infrastructure improvements.

Vision of the US city in 2025: the relatively well off retirees with a handful of wealthy young families and a rapidly shrinking class of young, childless workers that they employ. Everyone else is shunted off to the suburbs.
posted by The Whelk at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know how anyone can look at Bay Area rents and come to any conclusion other than that the city is being colonized by a demographic with seriously abundant liquidity. And that demographic is mostly dudes working for tech companies.

And like the author of this article, I'm not super comfortable with what that means, because those dudes are pretty homogenous.

I realize we're mostly talking about strawmen and anecdotes here, but the strawmen are easy to construct and the anecdotes easy to find for a reason. The pickings are not exactly slim.
posted by Sokka shot first at 1:45 PM on March 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Betabrand bike-to-work pants cost $118 in large part because they are made in the the US (in San Fransisco, actually), like all the Betabrand stuff. It would be very hard to manufacture this style of pants, especially on a small scale, for much less while paying US wages. For this reason it seems an odd choice to attack as an example of conspicuous consumption by amoral libertarians. Surely it is more in keeping with the amoral libertarian line to buy the $30 chinos from Target that are made in unregulated firetrap sweatshops in the third world by workers in near-slavery, yet I get the sense that the author would find tech workers who did so less objectionable. Which makes me think that this is more about the wrong kind of people engaging in the wrong kind of consumption than inequality as such.

(Does anyone else notice the commonalities between these pieces about how well-paid young programmers are ruining California and the pieces about how well-paid young oil workers are ruining North Dakota? I understand the concerns that people have but at the same time I wonder why nobody ever writes articles about the effects of inequality when it takes the form of boring 50-year-old married middle managers making twice the money of some Silicon Valley worker bee.)
posted by enn at 1:56 PM on March 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't know how anyone can look at Bay Area rents and come to any conclusion other than that the city is being colonized by a demographic with seriously abundant liquidity. And that demographic is mostly dudes working for tech companies.

And like the author of this article, I'm not super comfortable with what that means, because those dudes are pretty homogenous.


The Bay Area being *colonized* by tech? Really?

And ..The typical tech workforce is Americans, Indians, Indonesians, Chinese, Taiwanese, ... all from a complete mix of backgrounds (wealthy, middle class, lower middle class and dirt freaking poor). There are few blacks (and of those most are immigrants) and a lower number of women (most of which are asian), but enormous diversity nonetheless. How many whites in America find themselves as minorities at companies in their industry? This is not even remotely unusual in tech. There seems to be a very false bar for non-homogeneity that is applied to tech workers that is not applied elsewhere.
posted by rr at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also this is the first time I've ever heard of Betabrand. The engineers I know mostly don't talk about or care about what they wear, many are still wearing the same T-shirts theyve had since college and a few pairs of jeans.

I actually spend wayyyy more money on clothes than most of my fellow engineers, but my god that Betabrand stuff is UGLY. There is presumably a niche market of people who care enough about clothes to spend money but have absolutely no sense of style who buy it, but wow.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:01 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's no longer true. In the Gilded Age (1870s-1890s) only one-fifth of the income of the plutocracy came from wages; today, it's more like three-fourths. Their wages may be ludicrously overinflated, but they're still work-related, not investment-related (although for a large segment of the plutocracy work IS investment, as they are "in finance").

While this may be true the point still stands that tech worker in San Francisco are not "elite." I guess it's just semantics, but elite usually(at least for me) implies some sort of economic power beyond the ability to spend money in the context of a commodity fetish.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:11 PM on March 24, 2013


I don't know; the jeans don't look too bad. Then again, I usually get my jeans from either Cheap Monday or Uniqlo (I'm conspicuously not a Bay Area Founder). And the reflective flaps/gussets are a clever touch for those who commute by cycling. IMHO, cycling clothes that look like regular clothing, rather than extreme-sports gear for the hardcore (think special “technical trousers”) are a good thing, as they send the message that cycling is an everyday activity, and not a hazardous sport.
posted by acb at 2:15 PM on March 24, 2013


I'm curious: how are most of these people getting so wealthy? Is there a "conventional path" - i.e. Ivy League school / Stanford / Berkeley / MIT with a CS degree or else the same with an MBA, work at Google / Apple / Facebook, meet people, jump to startup, and with a moderate amount of luck, profit? Is that about right?
posted by shivohum at 2:20 PM on March 24, 2013


Among employees who work for Google, Mr. Obama received about $720,000 in itemized contributions this year, compared with only $25,000 for Mr. Romney. That means that Mr. Obama collected almost 97 percent of the money between the two major candidates.

Apple employees gave 91 percent of their dollars to Mr. Obama. At eBay, Mr. Obama received 89 percent of the money from employees.

Over all, among the 10 American-based information technology companies on Fortune’s list of “most admired companies,” Mr. Obama raised 83 percent of the funds between the two major party candidates.

Yes, the randroids are loud, and yes, some fraction of the Obama donors probably qualify as bleeding heart liberaltarians rather than Serious Old-School Liberals acceptable to this author. But it's still pretty damn liberal.


But... did the researchers look at how many employees contributed to Ron Paul? And did they determine the total number of employees that contributed to Obama, rather than just a dollar amount? Because otherwise what's in the quote above only tells us the amount of money raised by Obama from Google employees versus Romney, and that says nothing about whether tech employees do or do not skew libertarian. Sure, maybe half the employees at Google gave the president 25 bucks for his campaign. But that still leaves the other half. (This is generously estimating that the 720,000 raised was almost entirely collected from single time, individual contributions of around 27 dollars. It's probably fewer employees giving more money more often).
posted by oneirodynia at 2:27 PM on March 24, 2013


But don't make the mistake of thinking you're not doing a lot better than most people if you're even dreaming of $10,000 raises.

Again with the assumptions. Who even said I was talking about getting a $10K raise? Typically, you need to find a new job to get that kind of an increase. And software engineering interviews are fucking brutal.

Anyway, the $10K figure was arbitrary. I could have said $1K, or $100 or whatever. My point is that, although starting salaries are high for engineers, there's very much a plateus, and it's really hard to get beyond that plateaus. And in her lame attempt to play the "privilage" card, mollymayhem ignored the concerns about stagnating skill sets and limited growth opportunities -- real concerns if you're an engineer. There's definitely an age bias in the industry. You really don't want to have the title of Senior Software Engineer in your 40s or 50s.

So yes, software engineering is a good job, but it's no kind of heaven. In fact, it can be rather difficult.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:29 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Protip: if you have to work to survive you are not elite.

I think the world would be a slightly better place if people could ignore this politically-motivated Fox News re-definition of the word "elite", and just continue to interpret it in the regular, more positive, less diversive sense.
"Elites" aren't overlords, or Them (vs us), elites are the people that society entrusts to oversee something because society trained them for that task. Elite troops in the military are not the guys giving the orders, they're the guys on the ground carrying out orders - when a task is difficult or important, we give it to the people with the most training in that role. Same with bureaucrats. Elite doesn't mean "better person", it means better person for a specific job.
The word for people using the power of their station to entrench their welfare, is "corrupt", not "elite".

The new political use of "elite" was created to fan anti-intellectualism, for political purposes. Don't fall for it.
posted by anonymisc at 2:30 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


(Does anyone else notice the commonalities between these pieces about how well-paid young programmers are ruining California and the pieces about how well-paid young oil workers are ruining North Dakota? I understand the concerns that people have but at the same time I wonder why nobody ever writes articles about the effects of inequality when it takes the form of boring 50-year-old married middle managers making twice the money of some Silicon Valley worker bee.)

Oh totally. It's because tech workers are an easy target. Picking on techies lets you recycle the ages-old tropes about "uncool, unhip nerds" with maybe some added seasoning of "this city was so much cooler before". Basically, when people fill me up with a bunch of crap about how cool their city was "before the yuppies/hipsters", I tell them to go stuff it. I used to hear the same crap when I lived in NYC. "Oh, this place was sooooo much cooler back in the 70s and 80s, before the yuppies showed up!" and yeah, I told them to stuff it, too.

This is NOW, this is where I live, right now, and I don't give a flying crap how cool it used to be. I can't go back in time to their grungy 1970s utopia and live there. And maybe it was a better place back then. Who the fuck knows? And why is that even relevant? You can't bring back the past, and despite how cool some peoples' memories are, I don't know if we would even want to. I live right here, right now, in the present, making the best of it. Fuck all that crusty-ass nostalgia.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:38 PM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


You really don't want to have the title of Senior Software Engineer in your 40s or 50s.


Hah, indeed. I am only 35 and have been a "Senior Software Engineer" for like 12 years. Of course, it means different things at different companies, but still. In many companies, though, there is little to nothing between that and management / Director / etc, so there really isn't anywhere up to go if you just want to code.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:41 PM on March 24, 2013


Ha, yeah. I mentally translate that to "Oh, this place was sooooo much cooler back in the 70s and 80s, before the yuppies showed up! I got old and jaded."
posted by anonymisc at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2013


"Elites" aren't overlords, or Them (vs us), elites are the people that society entrusts to oversee something because society trained them for that task.

I come from an anthropological background where elite very much means the rulers of a society not the management and workers. But again I guess it's just semantics. In the article it is used not in the context you are putting forth but rather to talk about the ability to spend money. I don't know where you are getting your fox news riff, but if I understand what you are talking about it is used in that sense to denote a us vs them meaning conservative vs. liberal. The sense I am using it in is the "occupy" sense of the 1% vs. the 99%. Also, see my previous comment.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 2:46 PM on March 24, 2013


Related ...

Why the Rich Don't Give to Charity -- "The wealthiest Americans donate 1.3 percent of their income; the poorest, 3.2 percent. What's up with that?"
posted by ericb at 2:50 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


an anthropological background where elite very much means the rulers of a society

This use comes from Plato's Republic - where the rulers of a society should be the people that society has trained with the education needed to rule it so as to obtain the best outcomes and greatest prosperity.

They are elites not because they are rulers, they are given rulership because they are the elite for that job.
posted by anonymisc at 2:53 PM on March 24, 2013


And why is that even relevant? You can't bring back the past, and despite how cool some peoples' memories are, I don't know if we would even want to. I live right here, right now, in the present, making the best of it. Fuck all that crusty-ass nostalgia.

whut

Contextualizing and understanding the changes a city and a society goes through is a crucial part of journalism, and the changes going on in the Bay Area are extreme and important to look at. The article is a touch sensational -- it's an alt-weekly, after all -- but give the Bay Area another 10 years and it's gonna look like Manhattan, shoving out everyone who isn't making at least $500k a year, and whether or not that's the kind of place you want to live in, that is absolutely a story worth reporting.
posted by incessant at 3:04 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


(I think it's a bit of a lazy shorthand to use "elites" to mean "rulers", and of course you're right that it's more widely used than just as political poison. But poison is the dominant use of it today in the USA, so I prefer not to grant the political re-framing that now rides along with that language.)
posted by anonymisc at 3:04 PM on March 24, 2013


give the Bay Area another 10 years and it's gonna look like Manhattan, shoving out everyone who isn't making at least $500k a year, and whether or not that's the kind of place you want to live in, that is absolutely a story worth reporting.

None of my NYC friends even hang out in Manhattan anymore. All the action seems to be in Brooklyn. They seem to enjoy it just fine.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:07 PM on March 24, 2013


That's great. That's also a story worth reporting.
posted by incessant at 3:13 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's just an undertone to a lot of these anti-gentrification pieces that reeks of "good-old-days-ism". It drives me up a fucking wall. I mean, as if it weren't bad enough that the Baby Boomers got to have all the fun and my generation got stuck with the bill. Now we have to concede that their culture was better, too? Bullshit! I will not have my generation's experiences trivialized like that.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:18 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


They are elites not because they are rulers, they are given rulership because they are the elite for that job.

Regardless my point still stands, tech workers and not the rulers of society.

This use comes from Plato's Republic

No. This is like saying the modern synthesis comes from Darwin.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:25 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Afroblanco, I'm decidedly not a Baby Boomer, but I still get worked up over gentrification, not because I think there was a mythic San Francisco of yore in which everyone was a starving artist with LSD-fueled genius, but because repeated cycles of overheated residential and commercial real estate markets result in more lofts, more high-rise condos, more office space, and less affordable housing and less light-industrial (which is where the urban wiggle room of underdetermined space has been ever since de-industrialization). Rinse and repeat for Manhattan, per incessant's and fnarf's comments. The South Bay version is the Sunnyvale public servant who commutes 3-hours round trip from Tracy because that's the closest place she can afford.

Back in 2000/2001, I wrote an article for a national arts magazine on how the dot-com-boom (hah! does anyone use the term "dot com" any more except in reference to 30 Rock?) had effectively evicted SOMA-based arts organizations when landlords made the reasonable calculation to get more money renting to a start-up. Even up in Japantown, the owners of the Japantown Bowl decided to tear down the bowling alley to build office space. Then the crash happened and you ended up with a lot of empty office space (and of course all those abandoned Aeron chairs).

migurski, I agree that 2000 to the mid-oughts were pretty interesting but then again I'm biased because I was in SF from 1999-2004 and once a critical mass of us were laid off from our "content producer" gigs (hey, don't mock me, I had majored in history and was working part-time at a nonprofit) we got to dig deep into various arts and activism projects. And for the bulk of that time, I paid $650 or less for rent because we were always putting someone in the living room to lower costs. I think we eventually migrated from SOMA/Mission up to the inner Richmond because rent was getting too steep for us in the flatlands. Now, the only working artist friend I have left in San Francisco is in the same rent-controlled apartment he was in back in 2002 and the rest have scattered. A non-surprising number up to Portland and down to L.A. And two old roommates joined the Board of Supervisors.

To be honest, I'm less worried about the educated-but-underemployed types of my ilk, we tend to find the next creatively fertile but still affordable location (note to self, Honolulu is not affordable). What is worrisome -- and this holds true for any city experiencing the latest wave of investment and new residents -- is the obliteration of the inter-generational character of a city, its working poor, the old-timers in the SROs, its economic and cultural diversity that makes it a place where you could encounter someone radically different from you and not just an increasing number of neighborhoods full of cafes populated by your near-peers. Come to think of it, my version of SF in the early oughts was a generational mono-culture. Even going into Noe Valley's stroller brigade was a shock.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:30 PM on March 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


Tech workers are among the class of people for whom society will always find another necessary thing to spend their money on, until it's all gone at the end of every month. The same is true for oil field workers in Alberta or North Dakota. Try having a kid in the Bay Area and watch how much of a dual high-income couple's money goes to trying to shore up their child's competitiveness for college admissions. The Rich are different, resenting the upper edge of the working consumer class might feel good but it isn't going to effect any change for the better.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:32 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I will not have my generation's experiences trivialized like that.

You get offended when you think your own experiences have been trivialized, and that's not quite the same.
posted by liketitanic at 4:44 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


You really don't want to have the title of Senior Software Engineer in your 40s or 50s.

Well I'm almost fifty and have almost that title (Senior QA Engineer but I do more coding than testing) and I'm still working. And I'm only mid-range in age of Software Engineers at my company, there are quite a few older. I don't work in Silicon Valley but my company is based there (Sunnyvale).
posted by octothorpe at 5:24 PM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I would agree that its not actually bad to stay at something like Senior for a long time or your whole career. At many companies, it's the end of the non-leadership / non-management chain. It is an interesting quirk though that often you can hit this within 3-5 years of starting your career, and potentially stay there for decades.

(The salary range for such a title is huge too, from <1>200k, so again its a tough thing to go by)
posted by wildcrdj at 5:39 PM on March 24, 2013


Look, there are intelligent things to say about gentrification, it's just that this article wasn't saying any of them. It was the same old anecdote-laden BS. These "TECHIES RUINING OUR CITY" articles tend to traffic in all the familiar cultural stereotypes about nerds, while pining for the good old days before people like me moved to the city. Gee, thanks.

American cities are poorly planned, and it's all the fault of cars and car-friendly policies. We should totally be trying to unfuck our cities. But the way to do that is not to chase out your tax base. And it bugs me, because lots of US cities are really fucking hurting now. They have hollowed-out cores; people have basically left them for dead. SF is one of the few US cities with a functioning economy, and people want to shame its workers for not being cool enough? What a bunch of crap.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:46 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would add that I have gotten one raise in five years and don't really expect to do much more than keep my current salary + COL for the rest of my career but I'm comfortable and can pay my bills.
posted by octothorpe at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2013


This thread really highlights how solid the 1%/99% framing is, despite Occupy as a whole having splintered under internal and external stresses. A software engineer has precious little in common with someone who works a low-paid service job... but both have far more in common with each other than they do with the people who have real money.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:02 PM on March 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bwahahaha, Jeeves, JEEVES! These people think they're displacing us! Conspicuous Consumption and they think we're the ones being offed. Oh God, its just too much, they work each day but think they're actually wearing on us!

Oh dear, I really should calm down. Bring in my drink.
posted by Slackermagee at 6:12 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Agreed that San Francisco, New York, London (can I break out into a Magnetic Fields' song now?) are the front runners in the "return to the city" of both people and capital. But a bigger tax base and increased municipal revenue isn't magic no-strings money -- my Supervisor friend has bemoaned how mo' money really is mo' problems. During the recession years, they dreamed of all the amazing public investment and city services they could provide once the economy bounced back. But once money started flowing back into the city, they also found that those same economic changes were really putting the squeeze on the working poor and non-tech small businesses. To what extent should the Board of Supervisors try to retain people, orgs, businesses that would be/are being forced out by skyrocketing property prices?

For the David Harvey fans, a nice summary I just read today in Brett Christophers' 2011 article "Revisiting the Urbanization of Capital" at Annals of the Association of American Geographers that argues how "production of the urban built environment" is a means to absorb surplus capital (free access thanks to the upcoming AAG conference)
Harvey recognizes, of course, that the built environment is essential to the production process and hence the generation of surplus value, as well as to consumption (e.g., shopping malls) and social reproduction (e.g., housing). Hence, switching of investment into the urban fabric can and does contribute positively to the production of future surpluses. But not always. For such switching is prey to diminishing returns: The potential for productive investment in the built environment is limited, so the point is eventually reached beyond which marginal investments “do not expand the basis for the production of surplus value.” [Capital] Switching, therefore, is only ever a “temporary solution” to the specter of a production-centered overaccumulation crisis, the latter ultimately being transformed into “a crisis in the valuation of [property] assets.”
Er, how's that for nerding out. But seriously, I just wanted to add this because it's not like the tech folks I know are cackling over the prospect of gentrification and turning the Mission taqueria into an endangered species. This build-out of SF commercial and residential real estate is part of much much larger process.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:14 PM on March 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


shivohuum, that seems to be a pretty typical path for the kind of people described in the article, at least for straight up engineers, although straight up engineers in this stratum are not likely to go to biz school. I hear you have to wear suits sometimes in biz school and spend a whole two years not founding a company. and there are variations. (E.g. Found or work at a startup in or just out of school; meet people in college or high school rsther than through work) plus swap around some of the schools (subtract most ivies; add cmu, for sure.).
posted by phoenixy at 2:09 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's happened to house prices -- sale and rent -- in just the past year alone is really remarkable, and I would be worried about it if I lived there. Is SF a boutique society now?

You know, while you're talking about this and mentioning seattle, quite a lot of both your points and the articles apply to seattle as well.

especially this one. And it's being driven by exactly the same thing. It's just accelerating to meet the same point as SF much more quickly.

I have friends who moved to the bay, and are watching this happen in oakland. But i grew up here and it's been weird. When i got out of high school(6 years ago!), i was working part time and could almost afford my own studio for $400 a month. The same place in an abject shithole is approaching 700 now, and it doesn't even have it's own bathroom. A bit after that me and a friend rented a seriously nice gigantic apartment that has gone up about 40% in price within two years. In a lot of places i've watched rents go up nearly 100% year over year from 2008 to now.

I recently went to an open viewing at an apartment that was a bit below market rate, and 55 people applied in like ten minutes. And it wasn't even nice.

It's just interesting to me, because renting a place in SF used to be a bit of a running gag among people i'd talk to, with the sort of "hah, people there pay 1000+ for a studio so tiny the fridge door doesn't open all the way" quips. And yet that is exactly the situation that's rolling right up to our front door.

This of course has all the same side effects mentioned here too. Basically that anyone who doesn't work at amazon, microsoft, some game dev shop on the east side, etc is pushed further and further out of the main parts of town. No one who works any retail/foodservice/etc job can afford to live anywhere near where they work without roommates, and people doing the "livingroom-as-bedroom" thing on one bedroom apartments is becoming the norm.

As was mentioned above with this kind of whining about techies pushing everyone out coming up about Austin and such too, i'm willing to bet these articles will start popping up about seattle soon.
posted by emptythought at 3:19 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look, there are intelligent things to say about gentrification, it's just that this article wasn't saying any of them.

Really? The stereotypical hipster hate article tends to focus on the poor and the artists. This article touched on the poor, talked equally as much about the middle class, didn't say dick about artists, and spent quite a lot of time talking about the effects if the nerd monoculture on the typical preoccupations of the rich --- cultural institutions, fashion, fine dining.


And it bugs me, because lots of US cities are really fucking hurting now. They have hollowed-out cores; people have basically left them for dead. SF is one of the few US cities with a functioning economy, and people want to shame its workers for not being cool enough? What a bunch of crap.

It seemed to me that the article was trying to shame its subjects for not being lame enough, stuffy enough, connected enough, to care about civic institutions that they don't think are cool.

In re San Fran being one of the only US cities with a functioning economy, I don't think that's remotely true. Sure, Detroit's out there, and there are lots of other places like it. But San Fran is far from alone in it health. House prices are spiking right now all over California --- people are building in the Inland Empire again --- Austin, Dallas and Houston are doing fine, so are New York and DC and Boston, and while I personally haven't checked in with it over the past couple months, Atlanta about doubled in size over the past decade and I understand the biomed corridor in NC is doing fine as well. So no, I wouldn't say that San Francisco turning into a monoculture is inevitable and acceptable because the only alternative is rot and death. There are plenty of other cites that seem to be doing fine with a more mixed bunch of sustaining industries, tech certainly being one of them in many cases.
posted by Diablevert at 5:04 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look, I never said there were no downsides to gentrification. Just that it really annoys me how people like to zero in on the fact that it's "techies" who are doing it, churning up all the familiar stereotypes in the process.

If you're going to have a city, you have to have some sort of industry. If you don't have industry, people leave and the city dies. In the Bay area, one of the main industries is tech. So when people with marketable skills want to move to the city, there's a good chance they work in tech. So freakin' what? All the negative effects of gentrification are the same, no matter where the gentrifiers work.

There are certainly ways to mitigate the negative effects of gentrification. Are we doing these things right now? A lot of them, no. Is this the fault of techies? No. Urban planning-type issues fall in the realm of politics and community organizing. So if we're not addressing these issues, it's everybody's fault, not just the techies.

Finally...

It seemed to me that the article was trying to shame its subjects for not being lame enough, stuffy enough, connected enough, to care about civic institutions that they don't think are cool.

Perhaps if you want us to stay a while and commit to these long-term institutions, maybe don't treat us like we're some kind of invasive species -- like we're locusts or something. When all you hear is a chorus of "we wish you never moved here", it can make it a lot harder to give a shit.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:10 AM on March 25, 2013


The boom in the tech industry is raising rents more than twice as fast in San Francisco than rents are rising in other cities. It is some kind of disingenuousness to insist that all gentrification is the same and has the same effect on local economies and cultures. A growing urban economy that causes rents to go up by 4% a year is nothing like one that causes rents to go up by 10-15% a year. This kind of growth comes at a cost. It's not all "yay more money in the economy." There are consequences, and they are quite different than they would be with a less rocket-like growth curve.

If the average rent in SF for a 1 bedroom apartment is $2700 a month - a figure that seems to get thrown around a lot in real estate blogs - that's $32,400 per year. You're "supposed" to only have to spend 30% of your income of housing ha ha ha ha ha. But in places like SF, NYC, DC, Boston, that's long been a fiction anyway, so let's say 50% of your income should go to rent.

How many restaurant workers make $64k a year? Civil servants? Admins? Walk west on 24th street from Potrero to Mission and look at the people you pass: how many of those women with the laundry carts and toddlers are bringing in that kind of money? How many teenagers waiting at the bus stop to get to school come from families where even one person makes that?

No one is blaming you personally for driving up rents. Let that go. I'm not blaming the dudes clogging up the sidewalk with their fixies outside the St. Francis on a Saturday morning. But it's not like you (general you, which also includes me, though I don't work in the tech industry) have no hand in this at all, because though we may be cogs, we are participatory cogs.
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Perhaps if you want us to stay a while and commit to these long-term institutions, maybe don't treat us like we're some kind of invasive species -- like we're locusts or something. When all you hear is a chorus of "we wish you never moved here", it can make it a lot harder to give a shit.

Why are you so aggressively defensive? No one here is saying you're a locust. Saying that San Francisco's demographics and social geography is changing isn't a direct threat to your character.
posted by liketitanic at 9:50 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


And dude, Afroblanco, I am part of your generation. Your experiences are different than mine. I can no longer afford to live in the Bay Area. You speak for yourself, not for your generation.
posted by liketitanic at 9:57 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is some kind of disingenuousness to insist that all gentrification is the same and has the same effect on local economies and cultures.

Again, I'll agree that gentrification has downsides, but I think tech is a red herring here. It's true that technology is driving a lot of the prosperity in the Bay area. However, if it were any other industry, I think the effects would be the same.

You speak for yourself, not for your generation.

No, to some degree, I think this is a generational issue. I'm sick of hearing how places where I live were sooooo much cooler way back when. It trivializes my own experiences. I never had the chance to live in NYC or SF during the 60s, 70s, or 80s. And it annoys me, this idea that there's some maximum cap on how cool my life will be because I was born 30 years too late. In general, I'm tired of hearing Baby Boomers get all self-congratulatory about how cool things were when they were younger.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:19 AM on March 25, 2013


No, to some degree, I think this is a generational issue.

Dude, if the worst you have to suffer in exchange for a life you think is pleasant and fun is feeling ANNOYED, I have zero sympathy for the "trivialization" of your insane privilege. You aren't listening and you aren't engaging and you don't speak for "our" generation.

But you win, anyway, because you can afford to live there.
posted by liketitanic at 10:30 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I never had the chance to live in NYC or SF during the 60s, 70s, or 80s.

Yes, well, the whole gripe here is that gentrification means (most) people from our generation losing the chance to live in NYC or SF now. Of course you're welcome to be annoyed by Baby Boomers, but urban displacement isn't some sort of generational one-on-one cagematch-- "our generation" also includes Mixtec day laborers, single moms working towards degrees at Full Sail University, young guys in the projects who have spent their lives in and out of the criminal justice system, et cetera. Not just the media-producing class.
posted by threeants at 10:36 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


... so much for not getting personal ...
posted by Afroblanco at 10:36 AM on March 25, 2013


Dude, if the worst you have to suffer in exchange for a life you think is pleasant and fun is feeling ANNOYED, I have zero sympathy for the "trivialization" of your insane privilege. You aren't listening and you aren't engaging and you don't speak for "our" generation.

So what do you want? How would you make the Bay Area affordable again, other than waiting for the next crash?

I think you're drawing a false line between you and .. whoever. I could afford a house in the Bay Area but cannot afford a house *and the risk of another major real estate drop*. You will say this is insane privilege; but that's not the point. We are in very different strata financially, apparently, but what you're not seeing it that the bay-area-as-lottery-mania affects everyone here.

Your Afroblanco-is-pushing-up-prices is my double-income-engineer-couples-with-2x-my-earning-power-are-pushing-up-prices. And their facebook-employees-and-google-employees-have-made-2br/2ba-places-in-mountain-view-and-palo-alto-$4100-a-month.
posted by rr at 10:43 AM on March 25, 2013


I actually think there are ways to mitigate the effects of gentrification. Hell, there's a whole field of study dedicated to basically that. But I think picking on the worker bees -- no matter what industry they're in -- is really the wrong way to go.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:46 AM on March 25, 2013


However, if it were any other industry, I think the effects would be the same.

You are incorrect. The amount of money, and the rate at which is flows, via the tech industry is not like most other things. The most similar effect I think can be seen in North Dakota, where the fracking boom and the workers it requires is outstripping housing stock and basically every other kind of infrastructure - fire and police, road repairs, courts, etc.

I have lived in other cities that were gentrifying, and I have been among the population contributing to gentrification (e.g., Mount Pleasant, Washington DC, early 90s). This, now? Totally different scale.

And I actually know people who have lived in San Francisco for 25+ years, and you know what? Yeah, it was different then. In many ways, it was better for a wider range of people. Now, it is better for a smaller and smaller slice of people. This is pretty often a bad thing.
posted by rtha at 10:48 AM on March 25, 2013


The amount of money, and the rate at which is flows, via the tech industry is not like most other things.

Again, it's about the money, not about tech. Look, I lived in NYC during the property bubble. You think the residents of TriBeCa and the West Village were happy to see finance people move in?

I think it's still too soon to say that tech is like an oil boom. I mean, yes, there was a crash in 2000, but I'm not so sure there's going to be a similar crash in the near future. We're certainly not seeing the same level of rampant speculation that we saw in the 90s. In the long term, I think tech will start to follow the same business cycles as everything else.

Anyway, there's a useful conversation to be had about urban planning and gentrification, but I get annoyed when I see anti-nerd bias pop up, and I'm going to call it out when I see it.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:55 AM on March 25, 2013


Again, it's about the money, not about tech.

You can't just handwave the source of the money away. It isn't something else - finance or fashion or messenger bags or whatever: it's tech. Tech is an industry where greater sums of money move around a lot faster than in many other kinds of industries.

It's not about whether or not people are "happy" about the effects that this type and rate of growth has on their city. It's about whether or not it's sustainable, and for whom. It's about how to mitigate the downsides for all the people who aren't working $$$ in tech, but who work in industries that make San Francisco a place where tech workers want to live (why else live here rather than in the valley? I mean, Mountain View and PA are nice and all, but they're obviously not what every Googler and Apple-r is looking for or they would live there instead of sitting in a bus for two-ish hours every day.)
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


It'll be interesting to see how this shakes out in the long term. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but tech was a big deal in the Bay area long before the 90s dotcom bubble, right? So the question is, was the 90s internet bubble the exception or the rule? And no, I don't have the answer to that question. But I'm going to guess that as the industry matures, tech will begin to follow the same business cycles as the rest of the economy.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:19 AM on March 25, 2013


Anyway, I'm sure that to some of you, I look like Mister Big Bad One Percent, but the fact is I'm not, and neither are my coworkers. We're not even close. None of us have anything that could be described as actual wealth. Like, the best case scenario for someone who works at a startup is you cash in your options and make about enough money for a down payment on a house. Realize, that's the BEST case scenario -- as in, you have about a 10% chance of that happening. I have friends who worked at startups for years and, for all intents and purposes, never saw more than their base salary, because their company didn't get bought or whatever. The people mentioned in the OP with all that unimaginable wealth? I don't know any of those people. Anecdotal, I know, but they're really a very, very, very small part of the population.

Most tech workers are worker bees. Sure, we make pretty good money. But most of us pay exorbitant rents, to landlords who would like us to move out so they could jack up the rent. We're at the mercy of employers who, for the most part, could care less about us. We have skill sets that become obsolete almost as soon as we gain them. We get carpal tunnel syndrome and bad backs from too much time spent at a computer. And we have to deal with one of the most brutal, sadistic, inhuman job interview processes of any industry. Am I saying my life is hard? No, my life is pretty good. But what I'm saying is that we're not rich, we don't even necessarily have much power over our destiny, and we are not the 1%. Not by a long shot.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:33 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I'm sure that to some of you, I look like Mister Big Bad One Percent

Honestly, I don't give a shit about you personally, or any of or co-workers, and I bet that's the case for most of us commenting in threads like these. Often, we would like to talk about the effects of [whatever industry] on [community], but it gets harder and harder when the same-olds take personally what it not made personally.

Whatever. I'm out, again. I've already removed this thread from my recent activity. I wish I could remove it from my brain.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


Anyway, I'm sure that to some of you, I look like Mister Big Bad One Percent, but the fact is I'm not, and neither are my coworkers. We're not even close. None of us have anything that could be described as actual wealth.

You look like Mr. Big Bad Five Percent. If you make around $150,000, 95% of Americans make less than you. Perhaps you thought being rich would feel different, but here we are. Newland Archer had his troubles, too.
posted by Diablevert at 12:31 PM on March 25, 2013


(rtha -- my last comment wasn't aimed at you)

And I don't know what percentage I'm in, but I'm certainly not the 1%. They're the people who have what could actually be called wealth. Compared to them, we're essentially on the same level, i.e. fighting over their scraps.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:36 PM on March 25, 2013


In this matter, as in many things, I defer to Chris Rock : "Rich" vs. Wealth
posted by Afroblanco at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I don't know what percentage I'm in, but I'm certainly not the 1%.

You are a dog with a bone here. You get that, right?
posted by liketitanic at 1:19 PM on March 25, 2013


I have a weird-ass analogy that I can't not use.

Okay. So the Ise Grand Shrine, one of the oldest Shinto shrines in Japan, is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. It still makes sense to call it an ancient shrine, though, because clearly something is being preserved over time. Moreover, it makes sense to call it more especially ancient than other holy sites built at the same time as the original Ise shrine, because when you preserve a holy site you develop and pass down a set of historical-preservationist skills, but when you rebuild a holy site every 20 years, what you pass down and preserve is the actual knowledge of how to build the place.

It seems to me that from a certain point of view, the important thing about San Francisco from the start has been its status as a place that experiences massive booms on a regular basis. "Preserving" San Francisco, then, would mean preserving this capacity to soak up any number of Afroblancos, as it were. We're failing to preserve this aspect of San Francisconess specifically because we've as a society opted to instead develop the political and historical-preservationist skills to maintain the literal buildings themselves. It's as if the current priests of the Ise shrine decided that, nope, they weren't going to tear down their version of it, and that therefore the folks coming in to build the new shrine would just have to go elsewhere.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:24 PM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


In this matter, as in many things, I defer to Chris Rock : "Rich" vs. Wealth

Er, in the linked routine Chris Rock illustrates exactly what you've been arguing against in this thread. Rock posits "wealth" as intangible, highly valuable social capital and privilege that supersedes "richness", someone's ostensible financial status at a given moment in time. Most tech workers, regardless of their present salary or level of job security, are college-educated and don't come from generational poverty, and as such have significant "wealth".
posted by threeants at 4:08 PM on March 25, 2013


threeants: that seems like a willful misreading of Chris Rock. He's not really talking about intangible white privilege or invisible backpacks, he's talking about the (weighty) difference between millions and billions. This is the point of the line about the wealth differential between professional athletes and the people who sign their paychecks.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:17 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


moreover: "if Bill Gates woke up tomorrow morning with Oprah's money, he'd jump out a fucking window." That's not about social privilege (though, yes, as a white dude from a rich — though not exactly wealthy — family Gates does have a heap of privilege), it's about the, well, relative size of fortunes. Oprah's money vs. Bill Gates's money. In numerical terms. You are so misreading that bit.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:30 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


With due respect, you've misread, drastically if perhaps not willfully. The whole, quite explicit point of Rock's bit-- I'm only talking about the clip linked here, as I haven't seen Never Scared-- is that underlying structural inequities exist which are more powerful than any one person's momentary fortunes. Here his specific contextual frame is white people and people of color. To wit (all bolding mine, obviously)*:

The second reason the Government will never legalise drugs in America is because, God forbid, some brown people got wealthy.

We can't have wealthy brown people. There are no wealthy black -- or brown -- people in America. We got some rich ones, we don't got no fucking wealth.

A white man gets wealthy, he builds Wal-Marts and makes other white people have some motherfucking money.


Wealth is passed down from generation to generation.

This isn't remotely subtextual. It's all right there.

Elsewhere, Rock gives three comparison examples illustrating "wealth" vs. "richness". The first is between Shaq and an anonymous white guy. The second is between Oprah, who was raised by a single mom working as a housemaid, and attended a public HBCU on a full ride scholarship, and Bill Gates, who was raised by a lawyer and a business woman, and went to Harvard even though he chose not to graduate.

There is absolutely no textual basis on which to claim that the routine we're talking about is "not really talking about intangible white privilege".

*transcript found here.
posted by threeants at 5:06 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bill Gates has about 67 billion. Oprah Winfrey has about 2 billion. Do you think the bit would be the same if those numbers were reversed?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:16 PM on March 25, 2013


Wow. So now we're arguing about the meaning of a Chris Rock comedy routine. Now the conversation is coming back around to something I want to be a part of :)

Anyway, I think it's pretty clear what he's saying. "You can't get rid of wealth! Rich is something you could lose with a crazy summer and a drug habit!" Then he talks about what white people spend money on vs. what black people spend money on, and it's pretty obvious he's talking about actual, physical money.

But I agree with threeants's larger point that socioeconomic background plays a large part in determining your life chances. I don't think anybody's denying that.

All of that aside, "You're privileged!" "No, YOU'RE privileged!" is pretty much the reductio ad absurdum of all liberal discourse, and I'm kinda embarrassed I got dragged down that road. Reminds me of the 2008 primaries, and all the arguments that basically boiled down to "Women have it worse!" "No, blacks have it worse!" It's like, yaaay, let's tear each other to shreds instead of looking at the real problem!

Whatever urban maladies you want to blame on gentrification, it's not the fault of software engineers. Blame a half century of bad urban planning. There are solutions to these problems, but those problems demand political solutions -- which means engaging everyone, including the techies. In fact, I think you'd probably find a lot of support for smart growth initiatives among software engineers.

If we live in the city, it's for a reason.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bill Gates has about 67 billion. Oprah Winfrey has about 2 billion. Do you think the bit would be the same if those numbers were reversed?

Of course it wouldn't. I don't understand your point. Rock is talking specifically about black barriers to wealth accumulation. It's right there in the text. Are you arguing otherwise? No offense, but his message is so direct and explicit that my charitable assumption has to be that your original characterization of the clip is based either on having watched only 1.5 seconds of it or having mistakenly watched the keyboard cat video instead. I don't really know what else to say-- the direct quotes I posted above rather speak for themselves.
posted by threeants at 5:39 PM on March 25, 2013


I'll grant that my analysis of Chris Rock's Oprah/Shaq comparisons might be a bit of a leap, relying significantly on obscure contextual sources such as history, current events, having lived somewhere, and the oratory custom of saying things directly after having said other things in order to imply that they are related. The quotes above, however, aren't my opinion-- they're simply what Rock said.
posted by threeants at 5:50 PM on March 25, 2013


so you're wrong about the Chris Rock bit. Note how it's framed by a discussion of the drug war, and specifically of the drug war being a strategy to keep brown people from becoming wealthy (rather than rich) because, he states, the drugs all come from brown people countries. If it wasn't about sheer quantity of money, and the quantitative difference1 between rich and wealthy, then it wouldn't be important that some brown people might make enough money to become properly wealthy instead of merely rich.

but nevertheless, can we just shake hands and say that quantifiable material economic forces and qualitative but likewise material non-economic social forces influence each other dialectically? cause I mean that seems like our common ground.

1: Or qualitative-because-quantitative, in the "quantity has a quality all its own" sense.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:52 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


but nevertheless, can we just shake hands and say that quantifiable material economic forces and qualitative but likewise material non-economic social forces influence each other dialectically? cause I mean that seems like our common ground.

Yes, that seems like a fair statement.
posted by threeants at 5:54 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


(I apologize for being rude. I feel that your understanding of the clip in question is inexplicable, but I didn't intend to get unnecessarily snarky.)
posted by threeants at 6:00 PM on March 25, 2013


It's all good. I mean, we're still at war over your heterodox interpretation of this Chris Rock bit, and lo our children and children's children will war for decades, but... no hard feelings.

Back on topic, here's an Emo Philips bit set in San Francisco.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:08 PM on March 25, 2013


Agreed that San Francisco, New York, London (can I break out into a Magnetic Fields' song now?) are the front runners in the "return to the city" of both people and capital.

Regarding London ... this is an interesting article in the current issue of Vanity Fair: A Tale of Two Londons -- "Said to be the most expensive residential development ever built, One Hyde Park embodies London’s rising status as an international tax haven, which has many Britons crying foul. An investigation of the complex’s offshore owners reveals the face of the new global super-wealthy—and they aren’t from Goldman Sachs."
posted by ericb at 6:29 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lest we never forget the adage regarding style and money; regarding the 'nouveau riche' and 'old money' in the USA:
"In L.A. they 'drive' their money. In New York they 'wear' their money. In New England they 'hide' their money."
posted by ericb at 6:33 PM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


ericb, that article on London residential real estate is jaw-dropping. I've been recommending it to all my urban planning classmates.

Housing markets and the intersection with finance is fascinating, there's a whole 'nuther ecosystem underneath that log.
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:04 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I personally have a complicated relationship with the tech sector in the Bay Area. I grew up there, and the tech sector was more or less responsible for lifting my mom out of poverty and letting her go from a single mom Zen student on food stamps to a single mom who was a project manager at Netscape back in the early boom days (it's a long story). For me, it allowed me to parlay my own aptitude for computers into a variety of well-paying and fulfilling jobs, despite having little formal education and being kind of an all-round misfit in my younger days. And although I know it's not fashionable in all circles to say so, it funded a variety of good art in Burning Man circles (as well as a variety of art that was very bad).

But it certainly hasn't been a universal good for the city and the area. The recent development of private-sector mass transit should put a shiver in any urban planner's spine, because it insulates the people with money in the area from needing to deal with the beleaguered public transit system (and therefore from having any incentive to improve it); Uber and the like just increase this effect. It's not hard to look ahead to a future in which only the poorest people in the area take public transit, and public transit is not likely to benefit from the concomitant lack of interest from the well-off.

On my last trip back there, I was struck by how many of my friends are now fleeing the city. To a degree this is down to a lot of them reaching baby-making age and therefore needing to upgrade their housing, which is not a thing that is possible for most in San Francisco; the only people I know who've managed to do it are fairly high muckety-mucks at tech companies you've definitely heard of. But I also got a sense that a lot of people are missing some of the things that initially attracted them to the city: the sense of adventurousness has been replaced by a sort of jaded foodie/consumer culture.

Tech is certainly not exclusively to blame for this shift, nor are tech workers, but they are a part of it; some of the people I know who are most disappointed with the city as it is now have complained bitterly to me of the Google-bus crowd taking over their favorite bars. Partly this is just hipster elitism, but I do think there's a measure of cultural homogeneity in the tech crowd which is in opposition to a certain ideal of San Francisco which values individuality, eccentricity and a willingness to let one's freak flag fly.
posted by whir at 11:58 AM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, and I guess I just don't see this cultural homogeneity that you and others speak of. I think it's a vicious stereotype. I mean yeah, I've had some boring coworkers, but they all pretty much lived in the burbs. I've known a handful of "boring" techies who lived in the city, but the one thing they had in common was that they were all really young -- like, fresh out of college. So I'm willing to cut them some slack.

When people say things like "the Google-bus crowd taking over their favorite bars" I honestly don't know what the hell they mean, because most of my friends at Google are anything but boring. You probably partied with them at Burning Man.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:45 PM on March 26, 2013


I believe you, and I've had many good friends who have worked in tech, and I've worked in tech myself (and still do, though not in SF). But I think the issue is not so much with the individual people as with a crowd of them. I'm trying to extrapolate a bit from comments I heard while I was there a week or two ago, but it's something along these lines:

With a crowd of tech folks there's a perception of a shared culture which is private to tech, and which is to a large degree insular and exclusionary in nature, both because of the wealth gap that exists between tech and non-tech, and because of a variety of factual ways in which the tech crowd actually is exclusionary, such as the shuttle busses I mentioned, and insular, such as the wide variety of corporate events meant to foster team-building and a tightly-knit corporate culture - the Google party with the surf machine, for instance.

So I think the issue is a systemic one. Nobody cares if some random person they meet in a bar one night is a Twitter engineer, but if a bar becomes 50% Zynga folks on a Tuesday night, people do notice (apparently, because then they complain to me about it when I visit them). That systemic shift is what people are worried about, not because they hate tech workers, but because as housing prices rise it becomes harder to find anyone who is not involved in it.

To some degree, as I said, it's just the usual conservative "get off my lawn" reaction that a lot of people have when they see the character of places they love changing; I'm sure a lot of people had similar feelings when the Mission changed from a predominantly Irish neighborhood to a largely Latino one way back when. I also think people tend to romanticize the recent past of SF a little more than it deserves at times, though it's a city I still love dearly myself.
posted by whir at 10:41 PM on March 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


most of my friends at Google are anything but boring. You probably partied with them at Burning Man.

Woah, Burning Man! That is so creative and cutting edge!

But beyond my asshole-sarcasm moment, I ask you to remove your feelings of personally being insulted and consider that if a city is made up of a bunch of people doing the same (deathly boring to me, but whatever) thing, wouldn't that lead to a sort of monoculture boringness?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:10 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish at times that San Francisco were a larger city, with less-defined borders that allowed neighborhoods to move more fluidly. It’s too small to accommodate too much of anyone, so the 15 minute move across the bay heralds a notable cultural shift rather than a simple change of scenery. I’m reminded of the now-funnier New Yorker magazine cover from ~15 years ago that parodies expulsion from Eden, showing a couple driven from Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge. A few thousand techies jockeying for apartments in the Mission District because company bus service is a comparatively big deal, though it shouldn’t be.

Whir, your mixed feelings closely match mine.

Afroblanco, your very personal reaction here is seriously missing the forest for the trees. I’m a tech person myself and I’m friends with a lot of these folks, but put too many of them in one place and it’s just so many phone-engrossed whiskey-sampling Über-calling inbox-zeroing douchenozzles. The comparatively riskier past where shit like Burning Man happened all the time right in the neighborhood and we made fun of the Marina was a lot more interesting.
posted by migurski at 5:29 PM on March 27, 2013


whir : Again, this whole phenomenon of "Zynga folks taking over bars" is something I have yet to see. The only times you'll witness something like that is at lunch hour or happy hour, when coworkers hang out as a team. This is just the price you pay for having an industry. Hang out in the financial district at lunch or happy hour, you'll see a lot of finance people. Hang out by the docks in Oakland, you'll find dockworkers. I don't think it's particularly destructive to a city's culture.

As far as the exclusivity/insularity thing, that's definitely something I associate with Silicon Valley and not SF. To quote wildcrdj upthread :

And I think this article is indeed focusing on "those" kinds of tech workers in many ways [especially when talking about impact on restaurants, etc]. But really, the majority live in Silicon Valley / San Jose, not San Francisco. If you write about tech workers from an SF city perspective, thats not wrong, but keep in mind that its a very self-selected group that does not represent the majority of tech workers. It is disproportionately young and extroverted (if you want to go out a lot, you live in SF. If you want to play board games with your friends, you're better off living in Sunnyvale or something and getting 4x the space for the same price).

This has definitely been my experience. Unless you're someone like me who really enjoys city life and is okay with tolerating its drawbacks, SF is not a terribly easy place to live. People who don't appreciate it either settle in the burbs to begin with, or flee there shortly after arriving.

The shuttle bus/public transit thing -- okay, that I agree with. Basically, what we have now is corporate-sponsored bus rapid transit. Which is good in a way, because it shows that an actual BRT system would work for shuttling people back and forth to the peninsula. I don't know how we'd go about implementing that, or if there's money anywhere to do something like that. Maybe some kind of public/private partnership where the corps chip in towards expenses, in exchange for having the shuttle stop at their campus? I dunno. Just a thought.

As for "taking it personally", well, yeah, I actually kinda do. I see a bunch of nerd stereotypes being churned up here, and it pisses me off. But I regret that this thread has become all about me. Nobody likes that.

Really, I think we're having the wrong discussion here. What we're seeing in SF is not a tech bubble, but another property bubble. If you look at the rate at which rents are rising, there's nothing natural about that. I mean, yeah, hiring is strong in the industry, but it's not THAT strong. I'm guessing a lot of these hot properties are going to be underwater in a few years, regardless of what the tech industry is doing.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:24 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Besides, a lot of tech companies are now locating themselves in SF proper, which will help eliminate the "Google bus problem".
posted by Afroblanco at 11:33 AM on March 28, 2013


Besides, a lot of tech companies are now locating themselves in SF proper, which will help eliminate the "Google bus problem".

As if that will reduce the complaining about the undesirables taking over.
posted by rr at 11:39 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Current rent map.
posted by liketitanic at 3:39 PM on March 28, 2013


Perhaps if you want us to stay a while and commit to these long-term institutions, maybe don't treat us like we're some kind of invasive species -- like we're locusts or something.

The article would be the same it we were talking about tons of young, disposable income holding meatpackers. You're fixated on the techie thing in a personal way, as if the important thing about the article is tech. It's not- the Bay Area has always been full of people working in the cutting edge of technology, no one is hostile to people who make their living via a computer just because of the machine. But anyone who's been in the City since the dot-com boom can see the difference this wave of new money is having on the neighborhoods of San Francisco and the surrounding cities. This is a big demographic change, and the issue isn't "nerds" like you seem to think it is. Certainly the days of every new IT company having an all-night, underground rave in their SOMA space before moving in the desks is long gone. But for those nerds, big money wasn't a sure thing, it certainly wasn't something that any computer enthusiast considered their birthright, and I think everyone in the Bay Area who remembers 1999 probably has some respect for the temporal nature of being suddenly rich. Nearly the whole point of the article is the different habits of six-figure earners compared to those of the past, and I think that's a perfectly appropriate thing to consider, especially as it's completely obvious to anyone who grew up here the changes it's having on places in such a short amount of time.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:51 PM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


In a way, I think we're in violent agreement here. My whole point is that tech is a red herring, so characterizing it as "the techies are taking over" is misleading.

I maintain that what we're seeing right now is a property bubble, not a tech bubble. You look at the graph of rent prices over the last couple of years ... shit ain't natural. Any time I see a graph like that, I suspect bubble. Meanwhile, most of the activity I've seen in the tech industry has been pretty normal and natural. This would indicate a whole lot of speculation in the property space that's not entirely coupled to the economic activity brought on by the tech sector.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:34 PM on April 4, 2013


« Older Spring Rain, Then Foul Algae in Ailing Lake Erie: ...   |   How a buccaneering young engin... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments