How Frothy Would You Like Your Cappuccino?


Another kind of social network

Nathan Heller’s recent article in the New Yorker (Bay Watched:  How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country.) makes some trenchant observations about the land of Twitter, Google, Facebook, frothy cappuccinos and fog.  There is a weird buzz created by new social media ventures started by 21 year olds, the hustle and flow of money and a zillion new, stripped down startups.  As Heller points out, it is now much, much less costly to launch a company, fail and start another than it was 10 years ago and traditional VCs are struggling as a result.

Heller notes a parallel between today’s young startup hipsters and the hippies in the late ’60s and the beat generation before that:  youth is a wonderful, energizing thing.

It does feel as though something in our economy is happening here that is different from what we have experienced before and that we are leaving some parts of the country behind.  The Midwest feels slow and slowing in comparison and fine cities like Chicago have serious issues to address.

On the other hand, I wonder, as Heller does, what those 21 year old startup dudes will look like when they are 40, when the mundane demands of life close in.  Some, of course, will be wealthy – we like to focus on their narratives – but many others will not and will struggle with whatever tsunami of change has most recently hit them.  And, it is hard to believe that we can move our country forward solely on the power of a bunch of frothy social media apps.

There are reminders of this today, right in the midst of the social media revolution:  much of the entrepreneurial activity that Heller writes about takes place around and in the edges of the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s gritty skid row.  Crime, drug use, homelessness and psychosis are rife here – no ride sharing or task distributing app is going to alleviate these problems.




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