The Soul of San Francisco: The Birth of the Public Medium

When I moved to San Francisco in the heydays of the tech boom, she was a much younger city, a soulful city trying to define herself in the face of a massive influx of wealth and talent. As foreign influences mixed with intrinsic identities, the two conflicted causing unsustainable inflation and population booms that put public utilities on edge. But more importantly, this influx also brought an abundance of culture and talent that not only defines San Francisco, but her empire of the Pacific. Her identity was never lost; it only grew, evolved, and matured. And through this profound experience, San Francisco gave birth to her most important offspring. It wasn’t technology; it was the public medium.

San Francisco has always been known for its counter-culture identity, a voice that rung independently of the echoes across the country. This independence was forged by our own identity as much as our country’s. America was settled by individuals who chose to leave the Old World and establish a new life in a land thousands of miles from home. The West is no different. What they found in California was an environment free from the influences of Old Money, and an atmosphere that was accepting of ideas and peoples of different cultures. That’s how my father ended up here at the turn of the millennium.

In the past, technology has always been a compliment instead of a core in business. Associates who close deals are more pronounced than the analysts who ran the business. Because of the scarcity of resources, also known as economics, there can only be a few businesses who can earn a contract. A simple example would be construction. The investor can only pick one developer for a new skyscraper, because there is only one plot of land, and only enough capital for one attempt. You can’t start with one company and then switch to another mid project without very serious and dangerous consequences. Issues can range from labor agreements, to the suppliers and grade of steel, to the standard bolts used to uphold the concrete jungle.

Traditional industries require significant time and money to implement, and the effectiveness of a transaction cannot be realized until long after the investment has been spent. Thus, in these situations, the winners of contracts fall on appearances, because the results aren’t readily available. However, the technology industry is a bit different. If you wanted to implement an electronic payment solution, you can actually try all 5 major providers in under a work week. The culture of San Francisco isn’t the art of the deal, it’s empiricism of results.

The reason why technology fertilized in San Francisco results largely from its culture. Back in the early 90’s, there was this growing novelty dreamed up by scientists called the Internet. Most authorities dawned this wave of information technology as a passing phase that will soon subside to traditional lines of business. If you look at the Internet objectively, it’s insane. The Internet is a series of tubes that connect thoughts and opinions, and if you pitched this idea to Wall Street two decade ago, they would have called you crazy.

The fools who did believe in this future of digital technologies moved out to San Francisco where a culture and a metropolis blossomed from its influx of talent. Within a decade, two nerds from Stanford, an idealist from Palo Alto, and a Jewish kid from Harvard forged the backbone of the modern American economy. They chose the West as their home, not out of necessity like many modern tech professionals, but because of the culture of acceptance that defined San Francisco.

Today, no matter how inane your ideas are, you can always attempt to build a life here in our city. Where in other places, you are mocked for working on a cloud for your cloud; San Franciscan investors will converse with a 25-year-old with the same dignity and respect that they’d show to a seasoned executive. Because technology changes so rapidly, it’s quite possible that the youth does possess a better solution than an engineer ingrained in the same software stack for the past 15 years.

Most people moved here because they wanted to use their skills to build elegant solutions to profound problems. As we started our first jobs, we slowly realized that technology was never the avenue to change the world; it’s a tool that enables us to do so. One of the best innovations of the past decade was Uber, a ridesharing business that alleviated transportation issues in the city. However, the issue was never technology, it was communication. Uber allowed the consumers of transportation to effectively inform the suppliers. Technology was the tool used to provide an apt solution to logistics.

Furthermore, the traditional giants of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter aren’t technology companies; they are media companies. Google turned the whole Internet into the medium of choice for information, Facebook and LinkedIn created the social medium between friends and acquaintances, and Twitter forged the modern standard for mass communication. Together, these companies created a world where people are free to voice their opinions without the restrictions that obliged the empires of the past. Information wasn’t controlled by newspapers, broadcasters, or think-tanks, it is freed to be judged and shared by the public.

And through this advent of media, San Francisco defined herself. She isn’t a technology metropolis, she’s a media metropolis. We created new ways for people to interact and communicate. We removed the barriers to the libraries of the world. We gave everyone a voice. Whether you are Bill Gates or a 9th grader from Petaluma, each tweet is processed exactly the same by the technologies that enable it.

The birth of the public medium promoted not only freedom, but also opportunity. Like all mediums, this public media has to be supported economically, just like the traditional medias of TV, newspaper, and radio. Behind the technological giants of the Silicon Valley, lies the true source of our wealth: advertisement. Google isn’t an Internet company, it’s an advertising company. Instead of TV or radio, its medium of choice is the Internet. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are no different; behind the tweets, connects, and likes lay a technological infrastructure supported by advertisement. Despite our progressive initiatives, the giants of San Francisco are still businesses.

And in under a decade, this newfound wealth drove the supporting information technology industry of the Bay Area. Outside of San Francisco, why would anyone need data processing in the petabytes? Why would a bank in Butte, MT need a data architect when it only has 3000 members? The massive scale of our public medium demanded an infrastructure that seems esoteric outside of Silicon Valley. But when our local businesses implemented these initiatives in 2006, it established the foundations of 2016’s economy. Which company doesn’t have a Twitter or Facebook? Which company still uses ledgers instead of databases? Who still sends memos when there’s email or Slack? Who still uses physical servers instead of a cloud? These are basic business infrastructures that seemed inane only ten years ago.

And through this growth of technology, came San Francisco’s most important contribution: the democratization of the economy. Power has shifted from private boardrooms to the public, and it all started with advertisement. The cost of entry to advertise on Google is only a few hundred bucks, and the price per ad is determined by economics. This is juxtaposed against traditional media where the cost of entry can be a few hundred thousand, and the price of your campaign is determined by rounds in a boardroom.

Soon, this democratization spread to the transportation industry, where the power shifted from a handful of medallions to anyone with a car and a smartphone. And with this new democratization, came the economics that determined the value of your labor. Taxi drivers and patrons constantly switch between Uber and Lyft to use the service that offers the better value. The equilibrium price adjusts to the ebb and flow of supply and demand rather than some arbitrary set price. If you don’t believe me, try ordering a Lyft on a rainy day. San Francisco does not obey the prices set by corporations, but by the natural laws of economics.

No one said that this democratization makes life easier; it just means that everyone has a chance to succeed. If you want to make video games, Unity will provide you the game engine, Amazon will provide you the host, and Google will help you monetize. With such readily available tools, it’s up to you, the individual, to try, and fail, and try again, and fail again, and keep on trying until you have something you are proud of. No one’s going to hold your hand and walk you step-by-step to success, but no one says you can’t try. It’s up you to forge your own destiny.

The soul of San Francisco is the voice of its citizens, and the growth of our city depends on our insurance that every voice is heard despite the popularity of their opinions. In a world where technology evolves daily, the next revolution can come from the sociologist from Seattle, as easily as the senior economist from Marin. The future of our city depends on our integrity to treat every single individual, irregardless of their backgrounds, with the same level of dignity and respect.

Because in San Francisco, our economy was built by courageous women and men who moved to the city with a few hundred bucks and an idea. Because in San Francisco, we don’t care about your background or experiences, we only care about what you can accomplish. Because in San Francisco, your voice isn’t just your words, it’s your talents, your contributions, your thoughts, your desires, your motivations, your ideas, and your rights as a citizen of our city. It’s not ivory tower executives who pick the winners and losers; it’s the public economy that decides between success and failure. Whether you’re an engineer, a developer, a biologist, an architect, a writer, or an economist, it’s your contributions that transformed our city into a tech metropolis.

The rains of March subside and give way to the seeds of a new year. For our glimmer in February wasn’t our might, it was a harbinger of our strength. And as the rest of the country saw the light that faded, they think forward to the blistering heats of their summer and the coldest winters of San Francisco. To them, our moment of brilliance has come and gone. And as the summer days grow bountiful and lush in the East, the West resigns to the biting winds of the Pacific. They obliquely confirm their truth. But our summers aren’t orthodox; we follow and live on a unique calendar, and we bide, toil, and strive beyond the faded glories of the past. And when the summer resigns to the chills of autumn, the might of San Francisco rises. As the leaves fall and the days of light fade into the colds of winter, San Francisco shines brighter, longer, and stronger than any could ever foresaw. Our golden age hasn’t come and gone, it’s being built by people like you.

It’s not technology that built our metropolis. It’s people that built the Empire of the West.

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