San Francisco: A social experiment

Observations from a visit to San Francisco, proceed with caution.

San Francisco is such an interesting place, ruled by this subculture of young technologists and entrepreneurs; micro-businesses connecting people to services, connecting people to people. Need a cookie? Check out @doughbies, they deliver. Why wait at the post office when you’ve got @shyp.

SF is of course the tech mecca of the world. The home of @google, @twitter, @facebook, @tesla, @apple. Giants who’ve transformed the world, disrupting economies of the last century. Off their backs, are young millionaires and investors throwing money at ideas, scared they’ll miss out on the next big thing.

Being in SF is like being a few years in the future, a running social experiment that other cities are watching through a one-way mirror furiously writing notes on and slowly mimicking. Traditional big businesses are dying and in their place are smaller more agile companies with a better pulse of the city. Leveraging the crowd and the powerful computers on their persons, jobs are shifting. Cabs are being replaced by you and I as @uber, @lyft and @sidecar aggressively drive prices down, and minimize wait times. @square and @paypal are pervasive and have simplified payments. @airbnb has flipped the hotel business on it’s head, offering more authentic living experiences in areas a Hilton would never go. We’ve cut out the middle man and replaced him with a machine brokering deals between people-people instead of people-corporations. Use @getaround and borrow someone’s car for a day, or @luxe to have your car valeted for you, anywhere. Time is this incredibly valuable resource here and people want things now. They’re on their phones looking for food delivered to them in minutes via @spoonrocket or on @amzn and @goog so they can get their toilet paper without going to the store. Wait five minutes for a ride? Forget about it. This is the immediacy of the internet manifested into the physical. We’ve become too busy for physical interactions, lining up for coffee, or going to a bank teller. We’re a generation of entitled kids with the world at our fingertips. This is the age of now, where the availability of answers and results, has us conversing with our phones more than each other. It’s connectedness except we’re in our own worlds. Then of course there’s @periscope and @snapchat and @twitter and @instagram, a sea of social channels punctuating that need of people still yearning to feel connected with a larger tribe.

A friend of mine told me that SF has changed so much in the last five years. Families pushed out to the suburbs. The locals left. The soul, the funk, replaced by affluent kids riding motorized skateboards with selfie sticks. Rent in the city is just too high and owning is a pipe dream. Seemingly everyone I met, with their flashy titles from their fancy startups, still have roommates. It feels like a city of transplants, technologists from around the world making their trip to tech Mecca. The gold rush of the 21st century, young startups panning for gold. And it just makes sense here. The money, the talent, and a community that embraces change form a perfect storm for startup success… or doom. It’s a high stakes game here and companies vying for talent offer insane perks and fantastic compensation. Of course the cost of doing business has gone up, @vessel has raised $132M to grow their video platform, @timehop got $14M to show you what happened a year ago. Shit, @pinterest is valued at $11B! All beautiful products, solving problems that I didn’t realize needed solving. But this is what innovation feels like I guess; incremental, experimentation and failure, applying old ideas to different contexts.

It’s addictive, this energy. This air of constant innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s contagious. Seemingly everyone I met was part of a different startup, wearing the company swag, drinking the company kool aid. Everyone’s hustling. Sure there’s hundreds of startups that are ostensibly creating technology to replace the role of mom, but you have @goog making self driving cars, @spacex taking steps towards space colonization, or @msft actualizing the holograms of Star Trek. It really feels like the beginnings of 2015 Hill Valley.

This is our future, today.