S. McCandlish 
Member since Jun 21, 2013

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Co-author of 'Protecting Yourself Online' (Harper-Collins, 1997). Principal, McCandlish Consulting. Formerly Communications Director, Webmaster & Online Activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Pool player. Cat… More »

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Updated on June 21, 2013 at 3:29 AM

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Re: “The Bacon-Wrapped Economy

This piece is unusually well written - Cushing is quite talented and insightful, and makes many observations that are at the "Of course! Why didn't I think of that!" level (e.g., "Companies like Google and Facebook have grown so big that they've effectively become utilities", etc.) But I have to agree that it's marred by some logic failures. Previous comments that the article seems to bemoan the loss of old-guard (i.e. just plain old) viewpoints and approaches and is generally anti-youth appear to me to be have some good points. The entire article bounces back and forth logically from discussing actual problems to mistaking trends and aesthetics for problems. There is nothing at all wrong or weird or stupid about spending four times more for designer pants (or whatever) than one might for the Walmart or JC Penneys alternative, if the quality and style make it worth it to you. There is nothing off-base about a sandwich being four-times overpriced at a restaurant catering to tech company execs and coders with huge salaries; the meals at exclusive old-money private clubs cost even more. People with a lot of money always spend plenty of it on "my version is flashier than yours" purchases, from clothing to food to vehicles to homes.

It's an outright "this is different, so something must be wrong with it" fallacy to go after young tech workers for their consumption habits and display-of-wealth quirks simply because they're less predictable, traditional and stodgy than those of the rich a generation or two ago. The writer must unconsciously realize this, since the champagne-with-fireworks example of old-money excess is precisely, directly comparable to the techie examples the article opens with. Consumption and display habits and who they generationally and subculturally differ have NOTHING, other than accidentally correlation, to do with the real points of the article, which are the changes we're seeing in affordability of living in the Bay Area, in philanthropy, in the sustainability of arts institutions, and other broader social effects of the tech industry boom here, that are actually meaningful. Demanding to wear sweatpants instead of a suit at work is not a meaningful social effect, any more than is the lack of 1880s top hats in the business district today (or their return, in steampunk fashion in the nightclubs). The writer is badly commingling signifiers of social tensions and instabilities with simple aesthetic trends and the tendency of the nouveau riche to explicitly reject the old-money values of just to make a point, not to mention the insistence of the young on doing what they feel is new and different (even when it's mostly all rehash). That is ultimately just an extended "guilt by association" rhetorical ploy, and a "this seems goofy and unwise to me, so it must not only be a bad sign, but causative of, not just allegedly correlated with, actual social ills" literary device, with two more built-in fallacies.

It's also wildly unsafe to make sweeping generalizations about techies with money, other than vaguely subcultural ones (e.g. most of them like science fiction more than their non-techie neighbors, on average). I'm converting a spare bedroom in my rented Oakland ex-warehouse loft INTO a library (Edwardian, not Baroque, if you want to know), because I consider it "turn[ing] that room into something awesome" and I don't need another roommate. I don't own a single video game console, and haven't since 1997. Never been to Burning Man, and I find burners increasingly tedious. I collect Art Nouveau antiques AND contemporary art originals (just not from burners >;-). I'm not in my 20s any more either, but the monied geeks this article is trying to analyze are precisely the same as we were in the late '90s and early 2000s, other than some styles have shifted (I can't stand dubstep - another "second wave" techie friend of mine pegged it: "It sounds like robot farts", and that's coming from an industrial/EBM fan). It's otherwise the same tech industry with the same people, other than some of the company names have changed, and so has where some of their HQs are, and consequently where the gentrification is happening. (As an aside, we need a new word, since "gentrify" refers to the landed gentry, i.e. old money. This is different; it's urban, comparatively young, and nerdy. Let's call it geekification.)

Cushing could (should - she's a hell of a writer) bifurcate this into two rewritten articles, one on the real issues relating to the monetization and ROI pressure being put on the arts, charities and other institutions (whose traditions and even legitimacy are being questioned), by the ascendancy of the tech industry and its extreme concentration in the Bay Area. These need deeper examination. The other would be an entertainment and lifestyle piece on how upscale styles and attitudes are changing due to people being well-off at a younger age and in a meritocracy based on the information economy. As someone else already suggested, this should be compared and contrasted with very similar trends in NYC and elsewhere that have already been written about in detail, and which give the lie to this authors' insistence that all of what's happening is uniquely a tech industry, West Coast thing. But don't try to correlate it in a serious way with major socio-economic problems without a hell of a lot more evidence, from professionals in relevant fields like applied anthropology, economics, sociology, psychology, etc., not a string of quotes from self-important hipsters who are re-doing what me and my friends already did 15 years ago, just wearing different T-shirts in a different neighborhood, and calling themselves edgy.

10 likes, 2 dislikes
Posted by S. McCandlish on 06/21/2013 at 3:40 AM

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