Silicon Valley: The Land of Progressive Disconnect
I first started this piece the afternoon of July 2nd, 2017. Nearly three months ago, I came up here to get some head space and to regain some footing in the rat race. In the short duration of time since I came and initially started this piece, many things have happened. Nonetheless, I didn’t expect to be here this long nor to be getting this giant wake up call of perspective that seems perhaps only someone not native and accustomed to the area could garner.
There have been many articles abound the web about the ever soaring cost of living on the West Coast.*** Many individuals are being pushed out of their home areas to the outskirts as gentrification consumes the major metropolises.
I escaped up North hoping for a different story. What I found, in many ways, was a worse one.
Los Angeles had their inauguration ceremony this weekend. Mayor Garcetti has been a ray of hope for the metropolis full of stars and dreams. He joins in on the fight for a perhaps more idealistic and better world… one where there is more housing for the homeless and technology is more embraced. This is a good movement. A movement that arguably should be mirrored by other big cities all across the nation. At least, on the surface it is. Time will tell if it will be a tangible reality or just another Hollywood fairy tale.
Up North however, despite the historical tales of progress, the world is far more grey in more than just the weather and lacking in hope and progress. If anything, things are more than a bit desensitized to an alarming level. It goes beyond the housing crisis, which is has its own issues here as well in the bay area. Sadly this missing progress seeps into most everything… but it took a few moments before I would see that.
“I came up here to try and find some more real.” I told someone from a famed technologically progressive facing company.
“I’m leaving to go find it but I wish you luck in your quest to find it here.” the employee told me.
As it turns out, Northern California has its own issues with superficiality. Arriving here you will be astounded by the gorgeous nature all around. When I first got here I had a game of collecting flowers from the locale. My car dashboard quickly became overloaded with an array of floral spectacle. I became enamored and inspired to take time and walk more, explore more, and do far more physical activities than Los Angeles’ car town had really ever inspired in ten years of residence. On the outside, it seemed promising even on the surface. It was deceptively hopeful.
Sillicon Valley has been responsible for the birth of some very great progressive moments throughout history. Grassroots politics ran rampant here in the hippy era. Sillicon Valley brought people together easier with the social media boom. There’s an energy of progress here. It all must be real even decades later right?
The energy of the city ran through my veins. With as much pain as I had experienced, this was the place where it was going to all change.
Or so I felt initially.
My optimism took me to the epicenters of the progressive changes. I was eager to go to them. I didn’t even mind the bridge toll then. I drove to Berkeley and shopped at a thrift store. I bought vintage clothes to “fit in” with the locale. I bought a sunflower and stood in front of a mural on the famous Telegraph road. I was excited and wanted so much to believe that the papers and stories about things were true.
I was left disappointed.
“What happened to all the hippies?” I asked the woman selling me that sunflower.
“They’re gone. It’s too expensive.” the shop worker Diane told me, whom had been working there for nearly two decades.
But this was Berkeley.
And now there it was, the truth from someone who had been there for the meat of it all telling me that most all of the hippies have long since moved on. They’re not in Berkeley and they’re not many other places one might think they would be by default as I would find through my travels around the bay.
Nonetheless I persisted on my quest for this hopefully progressive tale. I found out about yoga at the famous Grace Cathedral. Surely there would be some hippies there.
“Best yoga outfit ever.” one guy would tell me as I was gathering to leave after having done yoga in my high low dress.
For a moment, I thought that I might have found a sign of life. In the sea of Lululemon and corporate uniform yoga attire there was someone who was also different. He looked like another alien. He looked like he might get it. Could he have been what…
And while the experience was absolutely gorgeous, I would also not find any hippies at that yoga gathering or any of the ones I have gone to there since even though that one I would meet that day was someone there whom lived in the famous Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
Nonetheless, I persisted.
Over the weeks that followed since my intersection with what I thought might be finally a new age hippy unicorn, I excitedly explored the city more. I found myself seeing many things around the city that it seemed either weren’t noticed or outright weren’t talked about much if at all outside of a few little lines of news here and there that would otherwise go without real response. The hippy dream seemed less and less real and more and more superficial than even the silver screen city I had come up North to escape.
But that wasn’t even the hardest part at all. The hardest would come under the guise of progression and the very idea of a more connected world which, actually wasn’t.
“I just want to say that you shouldn’t believe everything you see online. It’s not as shiny as it appears.” he told me a couple of weeks after our first meeting at yoga in a coffee shop with a makeshift spray painted sign on a piece of plywood.
I drank my coffee and took everything in. I didn’t try and over think or analyze it as I tend to usually do.
Talking to him I learned more about how the mom and pop shops have been forced out by gentrification. This particular location was one of the few survivors that was also actually providing not just the real but the real pricing that isn’t predominantly abound the city. It seemed that I had indeed stumbled into something very real. I became happy with this discovery.
Excitement continued initially as I heard more about his story. He- an otherwise poor and struggling musician and artist who loved the city and was trying to make it work. He was lucky to have his little place with survivable rent in the Haight. He regularly did yoga and found peace in meditation. He was also not a stranger to pain or some of the issues with what I would find would be a rampant local epidemic. He complimented me on my attire again.
“I like the window ring.”
The window ring would have its own story.** It would be a bit of an ironic one in its own ways…. Ways in which I laughed about but acknowledged some degree of superficiality depending on the perception. I explained more about the depth and smoke and mirrors behind my decision and draw towards it.
“Oh this? It’s actually something I discovered that was broken and I loved it anyway. There was a stone there at one point but it fell out I’m guessing. If you look hard enough you can see the glue where it had been. Does that ruin it for you?”
“Nope.” he responded.
We hugged as we parted ways. I genuinely thought he got it. Regardless of what anything was or wasn’t, I was happy to have met someone possibly similar to me in the big blur of the city.
I would find later, that I was very very wrong however.
My travels through the North would bring me all over the bay.
Each place had their own microclimate with culture as well as people. It has been interesting to observe the differences that even a few short miles could make on everything from social temperament to traffic patterns…
But that comes later.
As with many metropolis, economics seems to drive the city and its outer laying proximity direction in so many ways. It unifies some and tears others apart. The behaviors of people seems to change depending on the area of the bay or even the district you happen to find yourself in. The allegiance becomes even more defined. I noticed it personally as I found myself behaving similarly in some regards as I quickly came to loathe trips to the East Bay while living in “the city” due to their negative impact on the economical potential I could attain while being in other places surrounding “the city.”* I have, however, occasionally pushed this aside and done a few runs to the East Bay. Sadly more often than not, particularly in later evening hours when I’ve been more trepidatious about going due to safety concerns, this has not been very welcoming as the disdain for “the city” versus “the Bay” or other parts of the bay is very much a real thing. Generally speaking I do not disclose this when I have pushed passed this but have been accused of it as it is also a very common thing.
“Why do I get so many people that just don’t want to go to the East Bay thinking it’s not safe? People are completely fine having strangers in their cars yet they don’t want to drive to certain areas? That doesn’t make any sense at all.” a patron stated as we drove past tents of homeless encampments in the East Bay.
“I can’t speak for others but safety is important for everyone no matter where you are. I don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t feel safe in my neighborhood. I just take it as their choice.”
“Do you live in “the city”? You must. I don’t feel safe over there. I feel safer over here. It’s funny you think “the city” is safer than East Oakland. You could drop me here if you don’t feel safe. I feel safe. You could drop me by the side of the freeway if you want. I’ll be fine.”
I could sense the fury and frustration from this woman whom just wanted to get home. She had had issues with others declining her this previous to me which she’d disclosed earlier on our journey. I felt bad for her and was trying to do my best to accommodate her while also bidding her to possibly take a bit of additional perspective into perspective… that she could either take or choose not as it was her choice. I tried to calm her down a moment being as empathetic as possible while she ranted and berated me about this issue.*
“I didn’t say I didn’t feel safe here or not. What I said was that I understand if someone makes a choice that it is their choice and I respect that is all. I’m truly sorry for your experience but as you can see I’m taking you where you wanted to go. I’m going out of my way to do so as yes I do live in “the city” but not all that live there are bad just as not all that live in the East Bay are bad either.”
I must note that this interaction is not meant to serve as a blanket statement about the East Bay. As I have found through my current short tenure here, the culture that once was the heart of the Bay proclaimed in history has migrated out to the East Bay.* A previous delightful pair of passenger that work defending the underdog not-as-economically able happily invited me to the East Bay another time. The arts and grit of the once “super cheap and artist friendly” locale has been pushed out East where even there is starting to climb with gentrification continuing to grow strong and the political climate still not being willing to be as embracing as its southern counterpart.
Economics and the illusion of a unified “city” or “Bay area” still tends to be the end all be all at the end of the day no matter what the reason. For many it overpowers the incentive for entertainment and escapes in many ways. Recently there has been some visitation from outside of the East Bay which has frustrated some of the locals whom have been here for some time before the roar of championships and technology came stomping in.
“They’re not the San Francisco Warriors you know. They’re the East Oakland Warriors. We’ve been watching them lose for decades and they still don’t claim where they came from. All of the new logos and marketing that has been coming out upsets those of us that know better. They are trying to make it as if they are just the “Bay Area” Warriors. The logo with the bridge is new. But they came from here and no one seems to notice or care.”
In those moments I could feel the pull of the clash of titans. Why is a place that is masked across the country as being an epicenter of progress a place where this rivalry is so ardently present?
But that’s not all. Of course, the plot thickens even further.
Flash forward to a later evening with the same “hippie unicorn.” Over the weeks that followed our second meeting I had experienced even more disheartening things among my travels. Traffic patterns were more than just a crowded city facing gentrification and “overpopulation” issues. It was a sign of a far deeper issue. It was an issue I would discuss that evening with the “unicorn”.
The same week that I had brought the disillusioned woman to the East Bay had not only been a week with a very hectic Bay Bridge experiencing an influx of excited Warriors fans and commuters. The traffic even was clogged for miles as I drove a journalist towards a press junket at The Oracle. My frustration for the Bridge and the East Bay grew as I drove past lines of cars. I was not a fan of this trip already but this was even more than usual. I tweeted afterwards about not having enough middle fingers for some moments. I would feel bad later when I found the reason why traffic was worse though.
I didn’t know that. Sadly even when that became known there was a spirit of frustration and an anger present around the whole situation. It wasn’t a kindness or empathy. It was just anger and otherwise apathetic and desensitized feeling towards the annoyance of someone holding up traffic. It frustrated me more that this was my initial feeling. I became upset with myself about it. I felt terrible for the person on the bridge. I felt worse about inadvertently being apathetic to the person’s pain and focusing instead on the frustrations of everyday minutiae of how this event would affect me and not the greater picture.**
But that’s for another further “dive” later perhaps.
Outside of the Bay area, I don’t know if anyone even noticed. In the Bay area, it seemed most didn’t either, unless they lived in the East Bay or were commuting to the city. Even at that point, the traffic seemed to be more of an item of conversation rather than the bigger heart of heart and disconnect.
About a week later would be another similar tale. This one would involve a suicide via the Caltrain in the South Bay Sunnyvale. News coverage would not state this directly but some (if the comments are read) would not be as quiet about it.
I would learn from my interactions from locals that this is actually a very common thing. It has seemed to happen nearly weekly since I’ve been in the bay area. Many of the stories of these tragedies actually involve high school students who took their lives*. Another recent one had involved an elderly woman.
“They’ve put people outside the tracks to watch now but it doesn’t seem to do anything. It is very common and it happens so frequently that you just get used to it.” a woman from Los Gatos told me.
I thought about this and felt terrible. Why was this happening? Why wasn’t this talked about more openly? With all the tales one might hear about the famous Golden Gate Bridge, you would think that this might be the place to have a better understanding about suicide and the importance of togetherness. I mean isn’t this the place which birthed the digital connection movement? Progress right?
Or is that just a myth now gone in the past like the hippies that are no longer “roaming free” in the very place that helped launched a revolution?
I wanted to remain positive. I wanted to believe that the hope and beauty of the Bay that had been told in history books was still alive and well. I vowed to find it. It had to be here still. It just… had to.
It had been a difficult week for me personally that week I would have my second not yoga meeting with the “unicorn.” The Northern California version of summer June gloom was extra heavy on the former southern California transplant paired with some of my own personal frustrations with an uncaring lacking empathetic world. I had finally hit my “need to take a breath” moment and taken some personal time finally after a nonstop work two month long binge fest. I was feeling a bit better than previous mornings by that meeting having explored a bit that day but was still running low on my usual punches of optimism.
The evening meeting was in the famous hippy epicenter of Haight-Ashbury logically. What other neighborhood could possibly be the place of a new age hippy? I was excited to get a moment to actually stop and take it in with company that gave me hope.
As I approached the meeting place I started to smile. What adventure would tonight take me on? I was eager to experience the continuance of a feeling of discovery as I had found in my trip away from the city seeing a famous tourist spot that had also had its own political history with the birth of the first peace conference of the United Nations. I wanted to hear about what had happened since I had last seen the unicorn. I was looking forward to exchanging stories.
It was loud in the bar. That was to be expected. The bar was what I might have expected visually. The loud broken sound quality was also expected as was the band that played. They had a good heart at the heart of it all, even if the output was not something I was entirely impressed with.
Conversation started. I told him a little bit about my day. I asked about his week. I then started to ask questions that had bothered me about my observations in my short tenure.
“Why do you suppose people don’t seem to talk too much about how frequent the suicides are up here? It seems like it happens every week or so. It’s really been getting to me.”
“I can understand why.” he said without emotion.
I stood in the crowded loud bar and felt stricken with pause. It was apathetic. This was disappointing. It would only get worse though. It would fill me with a sadness and also infuriate me. But that would come later more so after the continued dialogue.
“Well since the last time I saw you a friend of mine jumped off the Golden Gate.”
My hand went over my mouth as I felt the tears well up. I didn’t know this person but I felt terrible. I felt terrible for him. I hugged him. He returned the hug but remained emotionless.
“It’s ok. I wouldn’t really consider her much of a friend. I didn’t really know her very well. It just happened and I have no emotional connection to it really.”
My heart sank further. The “unicorn” I thought had disappeared into the ether. What happened to this progressive world? Why is this now the common tarry?
I excused myself shortly after this intersection as the disconnect became even more apparent. Talking about heavier issues was brushed off towards “perhaps you should talk to a therapist” rather than just a simple empathetic ear about things. It frustrated me. Where did people go?
I went home and looked on social media. I wanted to feel connected. Or, at least, have that sentiment of connection. I thought about the unicorn’s initial statement to me weeks prior at the coffee shop.
“I just want to say that you shouldn’t believe everything you see online. It’s not as shiny as it appears.”
I found myself curious to know more about the woman the unicorn had mentioned. Sure enough I found a post about her on his public facing social media. The post gave off the impression of deep sadness and an emotional connection. I was further filled with a fury and sadness for the world and this disconnect.
Only a few miles away south, Facebook headquarters has started to see an onslaught of backfire about this very issue. Newspapers such as the local publication The Mercury have written about this problem. Tv shows have been made about this problem. But yet it persists ever strongly and without emotion. Many of these avenues that have attempted to address the issue have including the Emmy nominated but none sadly given Thirteen Reasons Why brought forth their own issues within them which then had their own trickle downward affect. News coverage would lean towards a focus of “damage control” that would tear people apart and hold many back in some ways due to controversial discussions on approaches and much more.
Once again I am brought forward with the commentary about rings and open windows.
Illusions are everywhere but emotional connection is not. The movements are not as strong as they possibly should. Once upon another generation in this very place changes and progress actually happened. How will the Bay area address their suicide problem? How will the Bay address any of the litany of other political and emotional problems it faces? How will the digital world? How will the world as a whole? I’m nervous and deeply affected. Something has to change. When and how is it going to finally be the time? If it’s not here, where will the real progress happen?
I recently applied to Facebook headquarters having found a couple of positions seeking writers and community assistance. I’m not sure if that will be a part of this journey towards progress but I am hopelessy hopeful even in the dark gloomy San Francisco Summertime Sadness.
What are your thoughts towards the matter? Do you live in the Bay area and feel the disconnect? Are you across a screen feeling it? I’m curious regardless of what happens professionally what you might think. Until then, I urge you to embrace empathy and dare you to connect with your community digitally and offline on a deeper level. In an age where suicides are an ever growing common epidemic, perhaps some very tender and real approaches might be in order. Or at least that’s the thoughts and observations of this “unicorn” mostly hippy foreigner.
I humbly encourage you to stay tuned as I attempt to dive deeper into these and other issues that seems possibly aren’t being talked about enough.
There will be more to come…
I’m an observer, tenured professional journalist, and social media professional with several identities and stories across the web. Some of those stories are those of anothers’ journey. Some of them are my own. You can find me regularly blogging about various topics on my personal blog Littlegirlbigcity.me or my professional portfolio on Socialmedialoves.me. If you’d like to share stories or have some drafted for you (original, naturally), feel free to message me. Thank you for reading.