I need some distraction from the troubles in my life at the moment, so I’m going to complain about where I live. Not just Northern California, which is a magical place, not just Silly Con Valley, which is not, but the specific belt of 101 between CA-84 and CA-85, which seems to be the particular Hellmouth from which all our troubles come.
At one end there’s Facebook. At the other end there’s Google. In between there’s Stanford. And clustering around the far side of Moffett Field, there’s Google AND Facebook AND Amazon. And every square inch in between is getting filled with Teslas, artisan bakeries, and apartment buildings that are turfing people out so they can try to sublet a 3BR for $10,000 a month on AirBnB. All in a nine mile stretch with an ostensible population of maybe 200,000.
See, that’s the problem. The finance industry was always a magnet for horrible assholes, certainly, but they were being pulled into New York City – a place with a huge population at high density and with the infrastructure and transit to support it. You drop ten thousand big swinging dicks into the isle of Manhattan, nobody will notice, because they’ll be overwhelmed by everybody else. Drop ten thousand big swinging dicks into Mountain View and you’ve grown the population by almost 15% in a place with no subways, no apartment buildings over 4 stories tall and an existing population that wasn’t prepared for housing costs to double inside of a decade when wage growth has been stagnant all century.
Because the idea that nerds would somehow make tech a better place than other industries was always aspirational rather than descriptive. The tech sector was created by human beings, and human beings are assholes. Anyone who could see the Apple vs Commodore flame wars on a BBS in Birmingham in 1986 could have told you that there is no particular moral virtue in being a nerd, and fifteen years in Santa Clara County has proven me correct in this assessment. All the people who thought Alex P Keaton was awesome and ran off to Wharton in 1986 had kids who all ran off to Stanford so they could drop out after a year and get on the VC sugar tit so they could be like Uber or Snapchat or WeWork or (fill in current trendy “unicorn” that bleeds money like a gutshot pig here).
And it’s making things worse. There are towns all along the Peninsula that will be screwed if the Big One hits us during other than business hours Monday through Friday, because most of their first responders live two counties away since a cop or a firefighter can’t afford to live in Los Altos or Cupertino. The people who make a city possible – the cashiers, the janitors, the taqueria operators and pharmacy technicians and bus drivers and bank tellers, you know, all the jobs that existed when we were in kindergarten – can’t afford to live in the city any more, and are progressively being othered out of the world of Silly Con Valley now that you can be anonymously serviced by Uber and Doordash and the likes of the gig economy. And people didn’t care as long as it was “unskilled labor,” but they also underestimate how many of them are nothing but bit-janitors in the end. The point being not that they deserve better, but that the janitors deserve better.
The good news is that with things like AB5, the state of California is punching back for the people against the nerds and the algorithms. The bad news is that it may already be too late for this place to be dragged out of the Hellmouth. Silly Con Valley is where your future comes from, and you may not be glad it does.