As of late, a flurry of national media attention has followed San Francisco's growth and attendant cultural ramifications (take George Packer's recent Silicon Valley piece or this week's meditation on SF's housing crunch from The Atlantic). Something, apparently, is happening here. And what it is isn't exactly clear, even to clear-eyed young reporter Nathan Heller, whose piece in this week's New Yorker seeks to clarify the city's shift towards a youth tech culture that boggles East Coast definitions of success.
Heller, a Bay Area native, begins his journey with Johnny Hwin, a poster boy for the new culture who balances careers as a tech entrepreneur, musician, and denizen of an art-and tech collective called The Sub. It was while talking with Hwin that Heller made a realization we're all probably familiar with: "This all made sense in broad strokes, but some point I realized that I still didn't understand entirely what he did with his time." What follows is a jaunt through the optimist's world of the New Tech Youth, with cameos from Lyft, Square, and William Draper of the Draper University of Heroes (that's the boarding school/boot camp for aspiring tech moguls).
Heller spends time with Kyle Kirchoff, the founder of the private shuttle service Leap, which now runs service along the 30X Muni line, charging $6 a ride for leather seats and WiFi. Kirchoff provided the familiar "fostering competition" line when asked whether providing an "escape route" for a system's strongest users doesn't do a disservice to "the schoolkid, the homeless alcoholic, the elderly Chinese woman who speaks no English" and others who can't lobby for change on their own. More impressive was Leila Janah of Samasource, whose out-sourcing startup has reportedly lifted fifteen thousand people above the poverty line. The result of all this? "A rising metropolitan generation that is creative, thoughtful, culturally charismatic, swollen with youthful generosity and dreams—and fundamentally invested in the sovereignty of private enterprise."
The future of tech influence is apparently no longer rooted in the large tech corporations down south, which are now regarded as bastions of middle managers and engineers who are out for a cushy life and come laden with "artifacts of suburban culture," per Hwing. "I’m not trying to look down on people from Mountain View, obviously—I mean, compassion for all human beings—but ..."
Nope, the future is the city, where one can gather around a paleo-style dinner, participate in meditation retreats, and pursue those New Age ideals no one really had the money for before. "Why be Gordon Gekko when you could make enough to have a nice place and go paleo on local greens—and then take a day or two off to cycle out to Stinson Beach?" muses Heller. "Isn’t that freedom more distinguishing than cash or a C.E.O. title, which everybody in your field has access to?"
"The youth, the upward dreams, the emphasis on life style over other status markers, the disdain for industrial hierarchy, the social benefits of good deeds and warm thoughts—only proper nouns distinguish this description from a portrait of the startup culture in the Bay Area today. It is startling to realize that urban tech life is the closest heir to the spirit of the sixties, and its creative efflorescence, that the country has so far produced."