If you listen, not everyone in San Francisco is talking about Apple
Headphones can make it so easy to tune out. Three months into my life in San Francisco, I’m realizing how much I’ve missed.
“OK,” I thought to myself. “Today is going to be a crazy day.” I pulled my backpack on, grabbed a jacket and, as usual, put my headphones on before I left my apartment. I had to be at work early, because as almost anyone working in tech could tell you, today was Apple Event day.
As I walked down Market Street toward the headquarters of Twitter and Uber, I noticed that the usual sea of T-shirt-clad workers plugged into their headphones was a bit different. Today, the city had something in common: Apple’s spring product launch. I pulled my headphones out at a busy street corner and heard a group discussing their hopes and expectations. “No way a smaller iPhone will be just as good. Can they make the camera get better? Dude, you still wear that Apple Watch?”
Excited to be a part of the buzz, I stashed my headphones in my pocket. I moved to San Francisco from Washington, D.C., in December and this was my first big product event in the technology capital of the world. Tech is infused in nearly every conversation, from Uber rides to elevator conversations to buying a coffee. But today, the chatter was even louder.
It was a wave of excitement — but not for everyone. Just across the street from the Twitter building, where the buzz on Monday was all about the social media platform’s 10-year anniversary, the same homeless man I see every day sat holding the same sign.
A woman amputee sat in her wheelchair near her usual intersection. Familiar homeless dogs yapped across the street at one another.
“Excuse me,” the homeless man asked a woman walking by. She stared forward and slipped her headphones on. I ran my fingers over mine, tempted to do the same, before I was asked to give money. But I was quickly distracted by two 20-somethings debating if Apple should bring back white and black laptops, or have no laptops at all.
It wasn’t until I sat down at my desk, and pulled my headphones out to listen to the Apple announcement, that I thought about what just happened. I had made a split decision: focus on one San Francisco discussion while ignoring another. And it made me uneasy.
What’s happening in San Francisco is amazing in a lot of ways. The technology boom permeates nearly every inch of the city, and there are incredible opportunities here against the beautiful backdrop of mountains and the Bay. If you try, you can almost ignore the reality of those who aren’t sharing in the boom. Headphones, worn by every iPhone-carting young professional, help keep those realities removed. Almost.
In San Francisco, the juxtaposition between extreme wealth and poverty is evident at every turn. Homeless communities line Market Street, just blocks from Mark Zuckerberg’s Noe Valley home. Like many Millennials, I came here, in part, because of what Zuckerberg stands for. The booming tech scene, which is constantly changing, weaves its way into everyday life — and it brings a chance to change the world. For a journalist like me, the stories are everywhere. For a tech whiz, the opportunities are bountiful. But for some residents of San Francisco, the new tech economy is shifting the city from what it once was into something new. Something expensive. Something exclusive. Something inaccessible.
So here I am, in the middle of it, not yet sure where I fit. But I’m excited to be here, in this beautiful place — and curious about what lies ahead, for me and for San Francisco.
Follow along here and on social media as I explore the technology explosion and the culture collision that make up daily life in the Bay Area. I’ll tell you about the intersection of the incredible experiences that flow from this amazing place and the often-heartbreaking realities that face many struggling to make a living.
I’ll be here, scrambling to understand a city with many identities and a long history. The advice I’ve gotten from locals so far? “Just don’t call it Frisco.”