Pessimistic Software

Pessimistic Software

Matt Webb writes on how the Web is San Francisco circa 2001, writ large. Place, culture, and infrastructure has a much greater pull on the kind of software produced than we imagine, and the Web has only reinforced that. Software is intrinsically optimistic, in a California accent.

Crackers predominate in former Soviet states with intelligent trained programmers and black economies. India gathers outsourceable software tasks. Online gambling is built from financial black hole island nations. Matt himself is developing evnt in London, with broad horizons but initially focused on the anarchic London media arts community.

2001. The thing about San Francisco is it’s incredible dynamism. SF today is a very different place than from the boom (damn thankfully!), and was even more different in 1995. The city was destroyed by fire in 1906, reborn quickly, and has continued in a cycle like that since. The cycle has charged up so much, SF heads to Burning Man every year to compress city creation and destruction into a week.

On transport and online delivery services, I think that may have more to do with the great influx of new people during that time. Public transit in SF may be worse than London, but driving is just as bad, and the newcomers were maybe used to a more auto centered lifestyle. Without the time or inclination to explore their new surroundings, online delivery was the perfect solution for an internet carpetbagger lifestyle.

I used to ride underneath the Central Freeway to catch Caltrain down to Yahoo in Santa Clara. Homeless encampments used to blossom and fade down there periodically, a fractal reflection of SF itself. One evening, my Schwinn Suburban got a flat right near a few tents and I had to stop. A junkie jumped from a tent, accusing me of stealing something from him, and it started to look like I might lose the laptop over my shoulder. I raised the bike Critical Mass style as an impromptu defense, and we had a standoff. That was an archetypical moment, encapsulating all the contradictions in boom town SF. And in myself.

Anyway, my possessions and I got out of there okay, without any violence, thanks to the intervention of a passerby, who could have easily joined in against me. Thanks man.

It made sense that virtual reality grew someplace between psychedelic SF and numbing suburban monotony of Silicon Valley. At the height of the boom economics had pulled hundreds thousands of minds, tapping their energy just like those Matrix pods, all for the process of creating virtual worlds so much more enticing than Highway 101. Something like this prompted me to move here to the UK five years ago.
And that’s reflected in my software too. worldKit and mapufacture are tools with a global focus, designed to be used in ways I never envisioned.

Though I’m still surprised that any auto journey is going to take twice as long on UK roads than US freeways.