Are today's techies, with their wads of money and private company buses, ruining the diversity and free-spirited culture of San Francisco?
Technology-driven gentrification has gotten ugly here. From Google gag orders to hateful Facebook and Twitter posts to protesters blocking buses and spray-painting nasty messages, a culture war has begun.
What side are you on?
There's no question that the flush of money from tech companies is driving up rent prices and forcing many old-time San Franciscans and less-affluent workers to flee across the bridge to cheaper East Bay cities. Rents now range from $3,075 a month for a one-bedroom unit to $5,000 a month for a three-bedroom unit, reports SFGate.
Last month, Greg Gopman, founder of AngelHack, infamously fanned the flames by posting a rant on Facebook and igniting an us-vs.-them class conflict. In part, he wrote:
"In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city... there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us."
Many commenters supported him, although Gopman later apologized.
Protesters aren't sweetness and light, either. They're writing signs and graffiti such as "techie scum" and "F-Your Startup," bashing Google bus piñatas, telling techies to move down the peninsula, and giving angry looks to innocent tech workers who are merely standing in line to board a bus and go to work.
The controversy has even led to a backlash against the term "techie." Displaced locals have latched on to the word to deride them. Now technical workers prefer to be called "hackers," "makers" or "coders," according to a SFGate story.
It's not just high rents and gentrification at stake but the end of a city culture that has given a lot to the social beat of the country, argues San Francisco author Rebecca Solnit in her essay "Resisting Monoculture," published last week in online culture magazine Guernica. She writes:
"I'm seeing the town that gave birth to the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network and seminal movements for human rights, a town that produced great insurrection and antiwar activism and idealism and new social ideas, become a place where you can't afford to live unless you're doing something incredibly lucrative and time-consuming - and probably involving technology corporations. A young human rights activist is not so likely to be able to afford to live here, or a nurse's aide, or a baker, and so the biodiversity of the city is being laid waste, and in its place springs up a monocrop of technology workers. If this continues, the contributions San Francisco has given the world will not be given any more."
Of course, calling technology workers a "monocrop" is a bit short-sighted. Silicon Valley's contributions to the world are equally vast and important. Technologists have facilitated greater communication and helped bring people together. Many who graduated from nearby radical-thinking universities are wary of government intrusion and have become defenders of our freedoms in the digital age. Silicon Valley is also the birthplace of green tech.
Tech companies themselves are a mixed bag. Some tech companies have taken a proactive approach by asking employees to engage in community service and earn a little goodwill, while others do their best to avoid the controversy entirely.
Google apparently placed a gag order on employees to talk about the culture clash to the press. When a San Francisco Chronicle reporter contacted Google PR via email for comment, Google PR sent a one-word, flippant response: "Ugh..."
In the age of anonymous online comments, gag orders be damned. What do you think about the growing controversy? Are techies, err, "makers" getting a bad rap? Should San Francisco's diversity be saved? Comment below or just take our poll.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org