Since these are my first days in SF, I want to record a few impressions here.
Moving to SF from Houston is a jarring change.
The first and most welcome change, for me, was the commute. No commute! – or at least, no commute in the sense that used to get under my skin. I’d have 30 minutes in the car in one direction, and an hour in the other: no longer. That commute was painful; to me, being in the car for such a long period feels like especially dead time, since you can’t use it to even engage with your phone, or hardly anything else. Then there’s the sitting, after sitting all day, for an even more extended period of time. By contrast, by walking to the BART and then standing on the train, I can get at least a moderate amount of exercise a day in, without any added time cost at the gym. So I don’t have to sit in a car anymore for an hour or longer, and all my commute times counts towards my exercise.
Next, space. I have much less of it than I did before. This has changed the function of my living space, from living to more like existing; I use it, but in small doses and late at night. The rest of the time, I’m out in the city. It can all blur together, the train, the streets, the lights, the people, the noise; but it’s a good kind of blurring, that pulls you out of your ahead and into your surroundings – most of the time. I worry a little that it can also distract me from useful tasks I should be doing, since just stepping out on the street and joining the busyness feels like an accomplishment, of sorts – and there’s always a t-shirt you could buy, a foodstuff you could use at home, etc.
The city has infiniite means at its disposal to make you feel like you belong out in it, doing something. But do you? Are you really being useful? I ask myself this, when I have software I could be learning or blog posts I could be writing.
Thirdly, social. This is the main change, really; on so many levels, SF is more social. People are interconnected in all kinds of ways online and are early adopters of information sharing services, meaning the information is a separate kind of currency here. But information – as people tend to forget – isn’t necessarily a thing as much as it as a facilitator of relations between people (a way we’re not used to thinking of information, do to a sort of scientific bias, but one that is more true to our daily experience). So not only is it more social in the sense that the bars and restaurants are all jam packed with people, but also in the sense that when you go home, check your phone, see what the people you work with are up to, etc., it’s much more present to you. Nobody here goes home to their castle and works in their garage on a bike or a car for hours. If you’re doing something else, even if it’s a business or a solo project, it seems much more inevitable that it’s going to involve other people.
You can expand this out to the way that people conduct business, too. I would go to startup meetups in Houston and people would be so intensely secretive about theirs that you couldn’t get anything out of them besides ‘fashion’ or ‘medicine.’ And this was Houston! Realistically, the odds of finding someone who had the (quite serious) chops to implement their idea, the inclination to steal it, and the willingness to believe that it could make them rich in a way their day job couldn’t just by hearing a bland description, was basically zero. There needs to be a level of trust for people to build ideas and refine them together even before the real money starts getting spent, and you can sense the ways in which the social culture in SF contributes to this. There are many advantages, both cultural and commercial, that come from having a seriously committed social scene.
Finally, identity. One of the interesting things about moving to a radically different city is that it teaches you the truth of conditional arising: things arise in their way due to a very specific confluence of circumstances, and when those circumstances change dramatically, the thing based on them does also. In a lot of ways my idea of myself was tied to the way I lived life there, and with that out of commission, ‘my way’ is, too. Even words that you might think have a common meaning, like ‘hipster’, have a different meaning in SF and Houston, for that matter (in SF, by Houston standards, we’re all a litlte bit hipster).
So by moving to a different place, you see how much of your idea of yourself is based on place, and how easy it is to uproot my moving 1,000 miles to the left. Want to be a new person? Go to a new place. In the process, you’ll learn how you came to be that way in the first place.