On Friday night, I was assaulted while walking down the sidewalk in the Mission District of San Francisco.
A colleague and I had just finished covering a march in protest of a Google employee who had recently evicted several tenants after buying and moving into a home in the area.
After more than an hour spent working on the story in a coffee shop, I arranged my laptop, camera, and notes in my backpack. Mindlessly, I put on Google Glass instead of squeezing it in with the rest of my things.
(In retrospect, I can see how that might not have been the best idea.)
The aforementioned colleague and I were on our way to the 16th Street BART station — I’ll note that I wasn’t using any device at the time — when a person put their hand on my face and yelled, “Glass!”
In an instant the person was sprinting away, Google Glass in hand.
I ran after, through traffic, to the corner of the opposite block. The person pivoted, shifting their weight to put all of their momentum into an overhand swing. The Google Glass smashed into the ground, and they ran in another direction.
Not knowing what to do, I scooped up the remains and continued to follow. We went back in the direction of the intersection where it started when the person ran into my colleague while I was blocked by traffic. After a brief moment, the person got away.
That’s when a police car pulled up. I gave the person’s description to two officers and they drove in the direction the person ran off. After several minutes, they came back and I filed a police report.
While I was waiting for their return, I tweeted about what happened.
Word got around quickly.
Initial reactions from friends on Twitter were very supportive — and then the trolls and anti-tech crowd showed up.
At first, I failed to see the humour in what had happened to me.
I had just been mugged, right?
After all, people acknowledge that the theft of someone’s expensive jewelry is wrong, despite its price. Why were people laughing at my misfortune or implying I somehow deserved it?
But as responses have flooded in and I’ve looked back on the situation, I’ve started to understand where the people barraging me with angry tweets are coming from.
While I may not be a resident of San Francisco — I live across the Bay in Berkeley, where rent is affordable — or a wealthy young software engineer, I’ve worked in the city for three years. I’d like to live and work in or near San Francisco for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, anything associated with Google has come to represent gentrification in the city, from the buses that take young software engineers to their corporate campuses in Silicon Valley to Google Glass. This is especially true in areas where gentrification and income inequality have become points of conflict in the community.
People are being evicted or priced out of their homes. What’s the difference between losing your home and having property destroyed?
Here’s how a resident of the Mission District put it:
I was pretty shaken after seeing someone completely disregard my personal space and property without provocation. I imagine that feeling is only a shadow of what dislocated people in this city experience every day.
And I can see why the person who smashed my Glass did what they did.
I love gadgets. I have for years — in high school, I’d finish my work quickly so that I could check up on Apple rumour sites.
Sadly, the easiest way to spot a techie is to look for the guy or gal equipped with the kind of ridiculous gadgets we’re always trying out.
So if you’re in San Francisco and see someone wearing Google Glass, it’s pretty likely that they work for a company that’s had some kind of an impact on the community, from one of the many startups to giants like Twitter or Google.
If those people hadn’t moved to San Francisco, people wouldn’t be priced out of their neighborhoods, rental properties wouldn’t be purchased by wealthy young millionaires, and tenants wouldn’t be evicted from the homes they have lived in for several decades.
My love for gadgets makes me look and sound like one of the people whom residents of the city have come to feel oppressed by.
The individual who smashed my Google Glass on Friday — because of political beliefs or a personal impact that has been made by the tech industry — felt that it was appropriate to destroy my personal property in protest against what I seemed to stand for, based on my appearance; never mind the irony in choosing to assault someone based on their appearance as a way to preserve San Francisco’s culture.
It’s important to note that not everyone protesting the tech industry’s impact on the city has taken such an oppositional stance.
At the march we covered on Friday, teachers, tenant rights activists, and other concerned citizens carried banners and chanted slogans that specifically asked Google to live up to the famous “Don’t be evil” motto and step in where its employees were displacing longtime San Franciscans:
You don’t see a crowd of more than a hundred people go to an investment banker’s house when he evicts longtime tenants, to publicly ask his or her employer for help, because of course no investment bank would do something like that.
Google, for all the backlash it’s gotten over gentrification, last year’s NSA revelations, and personal data collection for ads, still looks like a company that gives a damn.
The company has taken some steps to address concerns of protestors and people’s negative reactions to Google Glass. It started paying the city for the use of its bus stops. It has put out guides for Glass users on the behaviour that should be avoided so that you don’t look like a “Glasshole.”
But those don’t do anything to address the underlying issues. Something clearly needs to be done to address rising housing costs and gentrification in the city — people on all sides are being forced from their homes and made to feel unsafe on the streets and on their commutes to and from work.
Despite the vitriol portrayed in the news, San Franciscans are ready to work with tech companies. Tech companies like to claim that they’re changing the world for the better.
The optimist in me believes that both sides can come together to build a city we can all be happy living in.