Paulina Borsook: "Aboriginals & Colonizers" -
commentary for KQED-TV, February 18, 2000

I was totally taken aback by the email that kept pouring in for weeks and months in response to my recent essay on how the Net killed San Francisco. Most of emails said "I know what you mean" and "this happened to me" and "let me tell you -my- story."

There was, for example, the story told by the dotcom contractor who was worried about his 75-year-old mother, a lifelong renter in the Castro. There was the story from the designer evicted from his long-time offices in Jackson Square, and the one from the filmmaker whose studio was having its daylight bricked over by hideous new lofts going up next door to his actual live-work space.

There were also stories from people who said "this is why I had to leave San Francisco", or "I used to live in San Francisco and want to move back and now know I can't" or "I always wanted to live in San Francisco and now I know I never will."

A smaller group of responses came from people working in high-tech: "I see what you're talking about --- but what can we who work in the industry do?" To which I had no satisfactory answer. What could someone have said to the Miwok when the Mission Fathers arrived? What could have been said to the Californios when the entrepreneurial Yankees created the insurrectionist Bear Flag Republic?

But my favorite response was from a guy chiding me for my negativity and paucity of hard data. Geeks always get upset with the anecdotal: the subjective is so disturbing, you know? He -dared- me to find 10 good things the dotcomization of San Francisco has done for the city. His challenge was the other side to the ageless argument between pantheist aboriginals and true-believer colonizers. Aboriginals maintain a kind of live-and-let-live balance/sustainable status-quo. Colonizers have a winner-take-all/my-way-or-the-highway/exploit-to-the-maximum mission. And true believers can't abide skeptics.

I think the volume and vehemence of the response suggested a couple of things about life in San Francisco today: that there are those who are desparate for somehow somebody to suggest it ain't necessarily so and would someone stop the music please for just a minute so we can hear ourselves think? The dotcom culture posits that anyone outside its value-system of money as marker for all is stupid, lazy, blind, or retrograde. It's a compelling belief system, but until very recently, it was only one religion among many that flourished in San Francisco.