On Leaving the Bay Area

I first moved to the Bay area in 1983. I graduated from high school, spent my summer as an exchange student/day laborer in England (long story), then began studies at Berkeley, where I had a Navy scholarship (another long story).

1983. 35 years ago.

1983 was one year before the introduction of the Macintosh (my first job was covering Apple and the Mac). Ten years before the debut of Wired magazine. Twenty years before I began writing The Search, launching Web 2.0, and imagining what became Federated Media. And thirty years before we launched NewCo and the Shift Forum. It’s a … long fucking time ago.

According to my laptop’s backup program, which daily and plaintively reminds me of my nomadic existence, it’s been 35 days since I left my home in Marin for good. For the past five weeks  (and the next three) my wife, my youngest daughter and I have lived out of suitcases; in hotels and Airbnbs, across ten or so cities: Boulder, Cincinnati, Florence, New Orleans, Middletown (RI), Tisbury, and of course a few visits to New York and the Bay (mainly to see our two older kids, who live in Berkeley now). It’s actually been rather thrilling, to be without an address or a home. But even as we embarked, we knew where we’d eventually end up: We’re moving to New York City.

In the past few weeks we’ve found a home (in West Chelsea, near the High Line), and on August 15th we’ll become eager, anxious, and excited residents of Manhattan.

Taking stock of 35 years is exhausting. Moving from a home that’s borne the weight of your collective memories for so long… well, it forces reckoning, it shakes you by the shoulders, it demands repair. If you’ve been wondering why I’ve not been writing much, why I’ve been relatively quiet after months of nearly daily posts… here you have it.

I can’t explain in a headline, or even a few sentences, why we decided to leave the Bay. But if you’ll bear with me, I’ll do what I do, which is write till I’m done, and hope to explain myself to the extent you might care to know.

First things first: My wife is from New York, and when I courted her from out in California (and I really did court her), I promised that once this Wired thing played out (I foolishly thought it’d be a few years, if that), we’d move back to her home state. Her mother and brother live in New York, and I always have wanted to live there as well. If you’re at heart a writer, a thinker, and a creator of stuff, you have to live at least once in the most vibrant city in the world.

But as things turn out, three years in California stretched to five, then our first child was born, and we moved to a place we loved: Marin.  Replete with a truly majestic mountain, a community of extraordinary humans, and a lifestyle built for sending down roots, Marin lulled us into near senescence. Five more companies and two more children came, and with them a commitment to schools, to people we came to love, to the companies we struggled to build.

But even with all that, over the past five or so years, I’ve felt that the industry which once challenged, thrilled, and engaged me was … missing something. A few things actually. NewCo was, in a small way, my attempt at identifying those things and responding to them. Identifying and celebrating companies that valued mission and purpose over profit and growth, in cities around the world, not just in the Bay area…that seemed the right thing to do five years ago. And while NewCo was not a barn burning success as a business, it thrived as an idea, and along the way my founders and I met incredible leaders, thinkers, and fellow travelers.

But after more than three decades and six companies started in San Francisco, I’m ready to take a break from the West, from the Bay, and from the Valley. Truth be told, the place is starting to annoy me a bit more than I’m comfortable with.

I can rationalize San Francisco’s adolescent fits – it’s trying to grow up, and it’s terrible at it – and it seems our industry is trying to press past its bro culture and blinkered focus on tech for tech’s sake. But to be honest, it’s the lack of networked, lateral thinking that’s left me wanting. It feels like nearly everyone in the Bay area is so busy making companies (guilty), they don’t have time to have conversations about much more than … making companies.

I’ve spent my career chasing essentially one story: the impact of technology on society. Whenever I travel to New York, I find a different approach to that narrative. Sure, folks want to talk shop, but they also want to find connection points to culture, to social issues, to politics, to ideas and to the rest of the world. I feel like a lot of the Valley is habitually talking to itself about things that aren’t that interesting anymore. There’s a much bigger story to chase, and the density of connection and dialog about that story feels way more present in NYC. So I’m headed there, to see what might come of it.

That said, there are thousands of amazing minds in the Valley who are also fascinated by the story I’m chasing. It’s just hard to connect the dots, given how spread out the damn place is – Marin to San Jose can be a two hour slog, both ways. I’ll be back, frequently, but now as a reporter of sorts, with a mission of understanding tech from an outsider’s point of view. I’ve been in NYC at least once a month for the past few decades. Now I’ll be just flipping the bit, as it were.

How does this effect my current work with NewCo and Shift? Not much, truth be told. NewCo’s festivals around the world are now all run by wonderful partners who have them well in hand. The Shift site is moving to a open web domain, and keeping the Medium site as well, so our readers there can stay in touch with us. And Shift Forum will continue, but probably be a bit later than usual this coming year, given the disruption this move has driven through my life. I’m in remarkable conversations with a number of folks about what else I might do in New York, and as those conversations yield news, I’ll keep you guys informed about them here.

So for now, goodbye, Bay area, and thank you for making me who I am. And hello, New York – I’m a bit nervous about what you have in store, but I’m jumping in without reservation. If you live there, let me know. I look forward to the conversation.

24 thoughts on “On Leaving the Bay Area”

  1. John, I wish you well on your New York journey! I lived down the street from you in Marin, and I, too, recently moved to the east coast to be closer to family. After I responded to a new friend’s question about what I do (“producing digital media”), he said, “Ugh, whatever that is!” It was actually refreshing that we had more to talk about than our work lives. Definitely out of my comfort zone here but it’s a challenge that feels healthy and inspiring.

    1. Good luck, John. Me? I was born in Massachusetts and I hope to be buried in Northern California. The move out here was among the wisest choices I ever made.

    2. Amazing essay John! I ‘ve been having this conversation with so many early Wiredlings, makers of the OG tech CULTURE lately! We’ll miss you but NYC is my other home town, so I’m sure we’ll cross paths soon again. I sense a new book in your future 🙂 Warmest, Rachel

    3. Life is about moving forward. Change. San Francisco and the Bay Area still brings those who seek a very different experience that I think (well, I KNOW) we experienced in the 80’s and 90’s. I definitely feel sadness for the beloved Bay Area I once knew when I come back to visit after almost 4 years of being away; it’s clogged. That’s all I’ll say here. So congrats to you, Michelle and your family for the New. Because we all need some New in our lives every now and then. It’s a great privilege to create New. You’re all very lucky and deserve it.

      Hope to see you at Wired’s 25th ; )

  2. Sorry to see you go, but totally get it. Kudos for being open to forcing change in your life and embarking on a new chapter. Good luck!

  3. I’m a Bay Area native and 4th Gen Califronian, but I get it. Even Joan Didion gets it (she wrote a book about it more than a decade ago). Enjoy New York. There is no place like it. /c

  4. Having moved from NYC to the Bay area almost 20 years ago, I too am ready to return to the city. Or at least, the East Coast. Primarily because of what I call Intellectual Deficiency Bloat. Far too many Californians, especially in the Silicon Valley area, have become financially blessed and intellectually deprived because they are breathing their own recycled air, pontificating on how brilliant they have been, rather than how lucky they have been, for the most part.

    Self entitlement is their inalienable right, social stratification has been turned into a fine art, civility has been discarded in favor of personal protectionism behind McMansions and gated communities. Mill Valley has turned into Millennials Valley. Tiburon has turned into Silicon Tits-uron. And real estate and rental prices? Don’t even get me started.

    The Bay area used to be a haven for individualists, hippies, the Left Guard, iconoclasts, artists, authors, the Charles Bukowskis, Jack Kerouacs and Hunter S. Thompsons. Now it is home to Tony Robbins, Dwayne Johnson and Caitlin Jenner.

    At lease SoHo and the Village in NYC have retained their character. Best of luck with the move, John!

  5. Congratulations to you and your family John. The west coast will miss you – but the east coast is further bolstered by your being there! Hope to intersect with you somewhere in the world in the future!

  6. Well expressed! I think you’re going to love it. As you know, I’ve had the pleasure of living in both places and agree that NYC is a must-do for writers and thinkers.

  7. Hello John and your family,
    Love that pose on the Marin trail – can almost imagine where you are. Welcome east, and I can identify with much of what you say having been gone now for 12 years. We get up to NYC often, so we will try and connect next visit. From the person who hides watches in cakes.

  8. John,
    Welcome home. Even if NY is not “home”, the phrase has a certain ring to it. As a fellow traveller who made the Marin to NY move 8 years ago I can assure you all will be well, provided you’re willing to travel back frequently for your fix of SF. When the dust settles (or the bags are unpacked) give me a shout and I’ll happily show you a few of the gems (people and places) that I’ve collected in the past few years. R

  9. Bravo, John. I was just in New York, staying in Chelsea, so I totally get it. Looking forward to hearing more from you and what new insights a greater metropolis will bring.

  10. Wow, that’s pretty big and bold news, but then again – your career has always been about forging forward and leading new and interesting conversations. Congratulations!

  11. The bubble that is Silicon Valley is getting to me too, as are the negative cultural/societal impacts the rapid growth of tech have inflicted on the Bay Area. Congratulations on starting your next chapter!

  12. How could I have missed this? John, you and I probably walked past each other at this or that shindig, and I probably just assumed that — as in the past — you were in NYC for some reason other than living here. A belated welcome. I totally get your feelings. In fact, I had them decades ago. I graduated from Stanford, moved to SF and then to Japan. Then back to NY. I went to Japan, again, in 1995 and there met the woman to whom I’m now married who as a graduate of Cal/Berkeley (BA and MA) also had very strong ties to the Bay Area. But we chose New York for a few reasons. Yes, my family. But also for the intellectual, artistic and cultural life, the opportunities for career and so much else that defines the best of human existence. New York has intense concentrations of people at the pinnacle of so much. You can in an elevator or on the street meet the CEO of a major hedge fund, a world-class dancer or tennis star, a U.S. senator, a world-renown author, a political dissident, or a famous if clownish real estate developer who will one day (shockingly) become president. As the newspaper columnist Russell Baker once said, New York is the one place where you can on line for a movie meet someone who will make you reevaluate everything you ever thought you believed. I bathe in the languages and cultures I experience every day as I walk to the subway from home. Welcome, and hello. I spend many of my days at Civic Hall, a place where I think many would be receptive to your new venture, certainly to your desire to good and not just do well.

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