I visited San Francisco for the first time in a year last week. Someone turned up the dystopian dial 20% while I was away.
I stayed in a hotel downtown. At about ten on the night I arrived I decided to walk to a wine bar for a glass of California Pinot Noir. I walked six blocks to get there.
On that six block walk I witnessed multiple homeless people crawling on the streets. Crawling. Someone shot up heroin right in front of me. Three separate women dressed like '70s LA street prostitutes propositioned me. Then I got to a very nice wine bar where I had an unreasonably expensive glass of Russian River Valley Pinot. It was great but the juxtaposition not great at all.
The next morning I noticed that there are more self-driving cars on the street than there had been a year ago. There are also more people living in tents and in shanty towns. More people shooting up on the street. There are also more companies reinventing the world than ever before. Many of them are investing heavily in automation and eliminating human workforces.
I witnessed the worst of human destitution as self-driving cars rolled past.
One evening I had meetings in Palo Alto and dinner in San Francisco. I took a Lyft from Palo Alto to the Mission for dinner. It was cheap, easy, convenient. A little piece of the future.
Once we got off the highway we turned into the Mission. At around 19th and Folsom we were blocked by a house in the street. The house was a one room shanty built out of 2x4s and Plywood. It had a door and windows. It was on dollys and someone was pushing it down the street.
My driver flashed his headlights and pulled around the house. He dropped me off a few minutes later at Tartine Manufactury, which served my friend and me a very good but unreasonably expensive meal. The man pushing his house could have used the money we spent on that meal. The juxtaposition, again, was uncomfortable.
William Gibson will tell you that "the future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed."
San Francisco is in the future. San Francisco's future isn't pretty. It's cold, hard, technological. It's fueled by both extreme poverty and extreme wealth. By technology and heroin. It is the future of dystopian novels. It is the future of Gibson and Philip K. Dick. It is the future of Blade Runner.
Someone needs to take hold of the dystopia dial and turn it back down. Quickly. Before it becomes too late. The city needs to take better care of its poor and seriously examine what's happening in its midst. It's not enough to say that other cities hide these problems at their peripheries. There is something seriously disturbing about the situation in San Francisco that must not be ignored. Everyone has to come together, take responsibility, and move forward.