Admission: I’m a Bay Area native that’s spent the last year living and working in New York City. Interpet bias as you will, I confess to having a far more emotional tie to California than an intellectual one.
I think part of the problem with [San Francisco] is that there’s absolutely nothing in the culture that puts the brakes on people’s narcissism. It is, by its very nature, an infinitely gentle, endlessly indulgent place that encourages people to believe at every turn that they are exceptional human beings for having been enlightened enough to make their home in God’s perfect paradise at the dawning of the Age of the Technological Aquarius.
Buzz and I talked about this over drinks a few months ago and it’s been simmering in the back of my head ever since. See, I agree with every single one of Buzz’s observations, but my conclusion is the complete opposite.
There are plenty of terrible people in New York, of course, but their narcissistic leanings tend to be kept in check by […] frankly, the willingness (some might say eagerness) of New Yorkers to censure bad behavior.
Doesn’t this promote far more homogeneity, not less?
California is gentle and tolerant, but to me that’s the more honest route. I don’t relate at all to the notion that one should be calling others out on their bullshit. Life is far too vast and one’s personal experiences are far too narrow for me to feel comfortable with the idea that anyone has it all figured out. To suggest otherwise seems like the narcissistic route.
Besides, I think there’s actually a real value to stumbling into things wide-eyed and ignorant, unsure of who and what to believe. Jeff Veen once told me that he credits a lot of his success to not knowing what he was getting into. By the time the problems inherent in type licensing and technology became clear, Typekit had enough momentum to overcome them.
More broadly, this is the reason why incumbents rarely continue to innovate. They know too much, and box themselves into predetermined modes of perception. The flip side to never saying someone is crazy is never saying they’re right.
Bay Area startups like Airbnb, Uber, Netflix, and, indeed, Square, are emblematic of this attitude. Why shouldn’t we aim our sights high and disrupt whole industries? Sure, we may have no idea what we’re doing, but Zelda wouldn’t be fun if we had complete maps of all the dungeons. This doesn’t extend from exceptionalism to me. It’s actually the opposite: an admission that all is fragile and temporary, and that small forces can be large agents of change.
Okay, I may have toppled my whole premise here with a Zelda metaphor, but it’d make me happier if we could appreciate that cities and their cultures don’t have to be better than each other. I would wager that most of us in either area are visiting the other on a regular basis, not to mention following each other, working with each other remotely, reading the same blogs, going to the same conferences, getting inspired by the same stuff. We might be on opposite coasts, but the real distance between us is shrinking. It’s probably for the best that we keep those qualities that make us unique, and come to appreciate that we may hold different parts of the Triforce but it’s only in their unison that Ganon may be slain.