I had only been in San Francisco for a day before the inevitable. I went from tidying up my new space to being stuffed into the back of a Honda Element, rolled up in an old futon and left hugging a pile of playa dust-soaked stuffed animals as we careened through the streets. The story had something to do with VC and entrepreneurs and tech startups and a dinner party at a mansion turned frat boy brogrammer den. Up front my friends, with matching purple hair, were already back into brainstorming their next app-based get rich quick scheme with intermittent hammering on smart phones to make sure we would eventually arrive.
We walked sideways across an impossibly steep hill and strolled through the courtyard past the fountains into a house that, in another era, wouldn’t have dreamed of allowing us in without an announcement from the butler. Dinner prep was already underway and quick introductions got us into the dining room. I watched as other guests arrived. One in particular, who no one seemed to recognize, went through a series of introductions where he would announce his first name and the recipient would suddenly explode with excitement and hug him. He was like some kind of virtual being who had finally manifest in the world. I imagined him building countless friends and enemies through his online writing over months and years, never to leave his tiny house or trailer on the beach until this moment.
I got a chance to talk to the living avatar later and asked him what he was into. He went into a string of jargon around facilitating electronic manifestations of human and music engagement etc. I was curious about what that really meant to him so I pressed on. “So you’re a musician? You make electronic music? You want to help musicians?” After a series of no, without a whole lot of explanation, he suddenly quit. It was like he had reached behind his ear, peeled off a giant rubber mask, and just tossed it to the floor with a sigh. In a tired voice he said, “listen, I’m recovering from a medical condition right now and I… don’t really have the energy to do the thing right now.” Suddenly I realized what was happening. We were doing a “thing”. Everyone here was. In theory, I knew that, but I’m from Austin, Texas. I was genuinely interested in this person as a human being. But here in San Francisco, every event was about uncovering who among the crowd had access to the edge they needed to take their scheme to the next level. He recognized that I was not a source and needed to save his precious energy. I politely bowed out and hoped to meet him as a human another day. Perhaps this is what online communication is for.
There was much chatter on the balcony overlooking the pool centered around various market segments, large companies, and strategies for working with said companies and segments, avoiding them, or extracting money from them. I actually enjoyed the strategic elements of the conversations. I’ll have to find some level of comfort with the interpersonal power moves of this game, but I’m all down with the actual exchange of knowledge and brainstorming solutions. Thinking, I like.
Around the dinner table the conversation finally dipped into more mundane topics. Amidst a long cycle of comparison of television shows the man who had been cooking earlier got my attention from across the table. “Got ten bucks?” I looked at him confused. “For ingredients.” At first I thought he was joking with me, but he didn’t laugh or look away. “Oh, sure, of course,” I said, digging through my pockets. Of course I have no problem chipping in for a dinner. My stunned response at the absurdity of the request was due to the seemingly opulent surroundings. It was then that I realized that one of several things were going on. One: the residents didn’t necessarily have millions yet. They were all at the point where they lived with little more than beds and computers and the beds were no more than workspaces and computer stands. (I had seen some of the rooms.) They were still gold miners chasing the dream, swinging fingers to keyboard like axes into rock, working late into the night in hopes of finding a big score. Two: the surroundings were, admittedly, also used to meet with potential investors. Perhaps the facade felt necessary to convince people of money that they were worthy of money. Three: old habits die hard.
If I’m completely honest I have to admit that despite my discomfort with tactic-based relationships I did feel, amidst the swarm, the old infectious energy of the startup world. I loved the buzz of it back in the day and I can feel it all around me here again. I left it to pursue more life-affirming passions, hoping to inspire and lift myself and others beyond the sale of computers and plastic toys, but the energy itself has a lively character that I cannot entirely dismiss. As I continue to learn and grow with my craft my longer term goal, should I continue to live on, is to take these skills and scale them to more people. I recognize that this will involve technology and, likely, connections. Perhaps the circle is beginning to close after all. Perhaps I can make use of the scramble for cash to trick the system into bettering itself or its neighbors. At some point I will have to grab the horns of the beast and see if I can tame it to pull a plow.