Perspective is everything.
Being in Montreal illuminates how thoroughly dystopic San Francisco has become. I’m finding it hard to even describe. For one, there’s the near-constant presence of uniformed and plainclothes police, not to mention ubiquitous surveillance cameras/devices, and not to mention that those police assault, arrest, and kill a lot more. I feel like I’m always “CopWatching” in San Francisco.
Or the speed, scale, and heartlessness of evictions, homeless “sweeps,” and suspicious fires, corresponding almost directly to ever-more-luxurious (and luxuriously expensive) development and rentals. Yes, a one-bedroom in most SF neighborhoods, and not even a big one bedroom, hovers around $4,000 to $4,500 and rising; homes sell for double what the already-exorbitant asking price is.
Then there’s the use of habitants-as-lab-rats for all sorts of high-tech experiments that make sci-fi obsolete — oh yeah, the likely our humanity and humanness obsolete too. People are now nearly unable to take their noses, eyes, and minds out of their electronic devices, and soon they likely won’t have to; those devices will be part of their body wear — or body. What, conversation? You mean actually having to look someone in the eye, ask how they are and vice versa, listen, dialogue? How would one even go about that? And talk about what? One can only stretch out talking at someone about money, startups, apps, and one’s gorgeous entrepreneurial self for so long.
Not that Montreal isn’t experiencing some of this, but it’s at a far less frenzied, atomized, dehumanized pace. Of course, the neighborhood I’m staying in, Mile-End, has its share of mostly young-white-male neo-rich techies, centered around such hubs as Ubisoft. A neighbor told me tonight that a long line of them — mostly aged 18 to 23 — circled her block last week when one of the quaint “rowhouses” with lovely little balconies and gardens went up for sale. But besides big paychecks, they must not get free everything, like in San Francisco, including free coffee and food, at their workspaces, because at lunchtime, they walk in homogeneous grouplets in search of overpriced vegan, gluten-free eats.
So I’ve been playing a little game, since San Francisco has made me near-expert at “TechieWatching.” I guess which crew of tech bros in Montreal are “American,” as in from the United States, but yeah, when you hear them speak: American. So far, I’ve won every round of my own game. I can’t quite pinpoint what gives them away. There’s simply a certain je ne sais quoi about them.
Maybe this place isn’t so different after all? Or, it’s only a matter of time — and tech and money.
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, Ubisoft offices, Mile-End, Montreal, May 2015.)