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San Francisco Deciweblog Pt. 1

Warning: this entry is negative. If you like San Francisco and feel offended by my categorisation of your city, wait until tomorrow's post, where I'll go over the positives.

San Francisco's a really interesting city—it doesn't seem to change. The same things that were haunting it eleven years ago don't seem to have left—if anything, they seem to have gotten worse. The homeless problem is still insane, despite San Francisco being the secondmost dense city in the United States (it's nonsensical, really)—Alcatraz is just as depressingly present as it was when it was active; it's almost hard to think when you can see it from where you're standing.

None of the buildings are quite as tall as you'd expect for a city of its size—it's a lot closer to the Chicago of the late 1800s than to New York. Undeniably ugly, too, when compared to other cities—you'd be hard-pressed to find a corner that wasn't ad-filled. The atmosphere is almost oppressive in that way; regardless of what you do, you can't escape capitalism in San Francisco.

It's not all bad, of course, as I'm planning on expanding on in my post tomorrow. I'm not going to sing its praises—there really are too many posts doing that already, have been for decades now, and I'll be joining in on that later on.

It's really disappointing—people sell a very convincing tale of San Francisco being some quasi-utopia for resourceful nerds, but all it feels like is one huge, looming suburb with a half-dozen skyscrapers thrown in. It's too aggressively dull to be paradise. I have to wonder if there's something I'm not seeing—some pocket of hackers hiding out, writing revolutionary software in secret, some off-the-beaten-path startup scene that doesn't feel whitewashed and one percented, something outside of the corporate billboard and hiring funnel. If there's any of those, it's certainly well-hidden.

Of course, the rest of the Valley is different, as I'm fairly frequently told, but from what I can tell is drastically worse—it stops being a suburb-in-spirit and starts being...literally just suburb on top of suburb after you take out San Francisco. I can't understand why I know so many people who love this area. It's depressing to me. I could never live here.

I'd like to make perfectly clear that I don't hate San Francisco—really, I think it's fine, and some of its quirkier phenomena has been incredibly charming to me. But wow, it could use a facelift (and maybe open-heart surgery). This city is toxic, and I think I'll welcome Chicago like an old friend once it's time to leave. For now, though, I'll bask in the positives.

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On Magic

Everyone needs magic. Hours upon hours of our lives are spent staring at rectangular prisms—electronic or paper—just to try and capture the sensation of magic. We crave it. We chase it. It's the one thing all humans have in common.

It manifests in a few different ways. Some seek it out by looking for similar people. Others, through making or playing with interactive media in one form or another. You've probably even spent a decent amount of money at some point in your life on the most popular spin on the concept.

Religion's another way of chasing it—unsurprisingly enough, it's quite powerful. Most other ways of chasing fall downstream of it, which can be seen in a variety of most of the most influential and popular authors in the West, and outside of it, too. Granted, occasionally in other forms.

It's not hard to see why—life unaugmented is...not great. It only gets worse as we know more, even. Look into the eyes of your significant other. Run a hand through their hair. Think about how both you and they boil down to poorly smashed-together molecules at the end of the day. Your relationship, millions of impossibly tiny, unthinking little atoms, each of which individually incapable of love.

Depressing, isn't it? You can't make even that, the most sacred natural thing humans have, the slightest bit romantic or joy-inspiring without some form of magic involved in the calculation. Scientific advancement's a curse and unsustainable without it. With it, though, it can be the most powerful thing in the world, both politically and practically.

But religion is dying, and the never-ending march forward of science isn't entirely innocent (of course, arguably centuries of mismanagement by religious administration takes the largest amount of blame). While yes, in theory that's not a bad thing—getting rid of things we can't prove has served us well in the past (stigma against other races and sexualities comes to mind almost immediately), in practice, this seems to be proving incredibly dangerous.

So what are we going to replace it with?

I see two1 paths forward, neither of which are exclusive.

One way would be increasing media consumption by unprecedented extents—the beginning of this is already happening; it's almost impossible to be over two degrees of separation from a handful of people who spend disorienting amounts of time playing video games alone in their room.

That's ignoring social media, which in itself is effectively a MUD, and manages to siphon off a bit more of conventional MMORPGs' audiences every year—granted, often in pseudonymity rather than big business's desired eponymity (warning: Google Cache link).

The second way, and, in my opinion, the best way, will be the rise of a creation culture. This had already popped its head around a few times during the 2010s, with websites like Instructables, ArtStation and Glitch—each part of a different niche, but undeniably part of the same phenomenon. Creation of art and physical hobby projects doesn't exactly fill any evolutionary need; it's effectively a protest against utility—only something with a "soul" would do something so useless.

So we're left with tricking and distracting ourselves, and falling back to a sort of religion-of-self.

After the initial shock wears off, I can't see this as anything but a good thing in the long-term. Making magic more available can't be a bad thing.

In any case, we'll see soon enough.

  1. There's another one, but it doesn't seem to be surviving, and I don't particularly want to encourage it. 

    All links to news media on this post (barring one, which blocks the service almost as if to prove the point I was trying to make) have been replaced with their equivalents— is run by a non-profit, hosts no ads, has no distracting sign-up gimmicks, and allows you to get around paywalls. It also allows for group annotations, something I've seen people wanting for ages—if you haven't yet, I'd highly recommend checking it out.

    Follow me on twitter! It can be found here.