Nathan Heller, the New Yorker staff writer who brought us that article on the Mission chill pad “the Sub,” returns again to the Bay with some thoughts on the impact of Silicon Valley, specifically the cultural clash of tech culture and San Francisco’s activist culture.
It’s an old story, and local publications are sure to remind us that they’re sick of hearing it. However, Heller, a native son of Cole Valley, makes a lot of insightful, more philosophical points. His essay gets at the essential challenges that arise when people live in the close quarters of a city and have to figure out how to govern themselves.
There’s nothing super new here; it features a lot of familiar, local voices (Erin McElroy, Marc Benioff, Benito Santiago, Supervisor Jane Kim, Ron Conway, etc…), but Heller is thoughtful about the way technology (the industry and the products) may be shaping the way we all get along (or don’t). Here’s a sample:
The industrial-age nightmare was that technology would efface the self, but it seems, if anything, to have nurtured a new style of romanticism. The reigning buzz- word of our age is “innovation,” and its register is reminiscent less of Fritz Lang than of Bernardo Bertolucci; its default mode is not sameness but withdrawn, hypersaturated subjectivity. If you want to strut down Broadway to a Gershwin soundtrack, it can be so. If you want to swim the tepid waters of like-minded thought—mon semblable, mon frère!— technology is your friend. And, should you want to cultivate your introverted consciousness, you can carry a library’s worth of books, music, movies, and tele- vision with you everywhere you go.To be freed from the stranglehold of Big Media is, instead, to be deluged with a range of online commentary on matters big and small, a thousand click-bait headlines, a million points of irrelevant data presented in a hundred winsome graphic forms.
It all works fine until you want to talk about the news with somebody you’ve never met. So, too, with political language. Where customization is the norm, discussion—between strangers and opponents—becomes hard. Negotiation mi- grates underground,among close affiliates. Publicly, we volley with broad precepts we can all affirm: creativity and kindness are good; cruelty and oppression are bad. Perhaps all this explains how, even when it comes to matters of wide civic concern, a city of progressives can see so little political progress.
We actually got tipped off to this story by a New Yorker PR person–nice of them to let us know when they’re covering our beat—so this isn’t actually out yet. It comes out in print this week and isn’t available online for non-subscribers at this point, but you can find a longer abstract here.