< return to blog

Grand Unified Theory of San Francisco

"I went to San Francisco. I'm never going back again, until I'm ready"

07.06.23 8.59pm

I've always thought I'd end up there. The massive cultural pull makes the Bay Area an attractor for the kind of person I've always wanted to meet. Every now and then, a wave sweeps through the free world - There's gold in San Francisco! There's counterculture! There's personal computers! There's crypto! There's AI!
Each time a wave of excited young people are swept up to come seek riches and knowledge and power, and each time the bubble pops and they're left behind, like a deposit, building up the sedimentary base of weirdos that become the city's populace.

What ends up being created is a kind of reality distortion field (the RDF's most famous user, Steve Jobs, was born and died in the Bay Area, along with his company). When you live in essentially a year-round paradise, isolated on all sides by desert, sea and bad weather, Maslow's needs fill up and you become more concerned with changing the world. There's a reason that the idea of California as a terrestial paradise, an Atlantean island in the Pacific, stuck around for so long. It has a supernatural draw - and once you're there, there's nowhere else to go.

Tech has this attitude, more than any industry in history, that every problem is solvable. The corrollary is that no idea is too big for San Francisco. OpenAI make AGI from clusters of GPUs, Neuralink make brain-computer interfaces. Xerox PARC made computers you could use with a mouse. Google indexed the entire of human information. Last week, I met another Spruce, and he called me a self-driving taxi to the park. Unlike in Europe, nothing is sacred and everything can be disrupted. There's an amazing glow to that idea. Three days ago, Apple announced Vision Pro in tech's first move to disrupt our perception of reality itself - that's when shit's really gonna get crazy.

Life in the reality distortion field is not all good. Alongside the visionaries come dozens as many grifters, cynics and desparate confused aspirants. I learnt to trust my intutions about what works and what doesn't - if someone tries to pitch you something cynical or bad, it probably is. The other thing I found was the vulgarity of wealth, how freely people talked about raising a few million here, spending a few billion there. Success in San Francisco is not in-itself something to aspire for, as you'll just find yourself more trapped by the parasites than before. More specifically, the reward incentives for stuff in the Bay don't match the reward incentives outside it. If you go to parties a lot, maybe own a group house, run a VC fund or angel investorship on the side, you classify as a Huge Deal in SF. However, to most people, you're affluent and directionless. I spoke to people that had made millions of dollars from overselling and underdelivering, and now live life unfulfilled at billionaries' house parties. I don't want to jump ahead to the top. I want to come back ready and having earned it, having built something meaningful that helps people. Something real, something that you can't blag past with a pitch deck and a Nat Friedman cosign.

I've also learnt that MIT is artifically hard on us - it stresses you far more and demands far more of you than even the most taxing real-world environments. I imagine it would be easy to play life on easy mode after leaving MIT. The good news is that it's a choice - I can also choose to live life on hard mode, and if the Institute does its job right, I'll be able to do more than anyone else.

I'm not ready for San Francisco. If I went there now, I'd just ricochet uselessly for a summer and go home with my tail between my legs. I need to work hard, solidify my beliefs and produce meaningful things. Armed with that conviction, I can go anywhere - and I know just the place to be.