OffBeat

$4 toast: Why the tech industry is ruining San Francisco

The writer's bread, baked at home.

Above: The writer's bread, baked at home.

Image Credit: Jolie O'Dell

I have a great business idea: luxury sanitation. White-glove garbage collectors and high-end toilet systems.

San Francisco has overpriced every other basic commodity of human existence. Why not take that trend to its illogical conclusion?

I went to The Mill for breakfast today and got a black cup of coffee and a single slice of toast topped with butter and sour strawberry jam. For $6.

It was an experiment in upper-middle class lifestyle consumerism. In San Francisco, flaunting your wealth has been elevated to new lows, if you will. The labels aren’t the usual lineup of foreign design houses; rather, we pay $300 for simple denim jeans or $200 for plain black yoga pants. We don’t go to the opera; we overspend on the simplest facets of life.

Coffee. Water. Bread. Housing. The kinds of things our pioneer forebears made themselves and considered basic necessities or small comforts.

And the tech community is largely to blame, in this writer’s opinion.

Here’s the cycle:

  1. Someone creates a business for consumers with too much money and pretensions of superior taste. It might be a physical good, like toast; it might be a service, like black-car, chauffeured rides.
  2. Tech folks, being one of the largest demographics in the city with ample disposable income, patronize, promote, and even invest in said business. (See: Blue Bottle coffee.)
  3. Aforementioned business prospers and grows its profile.
  4. People both within and outside the tech community are inspired to create more bourgie euro lotto online businesses that cater to the bored and overprivileged, peppering their descriptions with buzzwords like “organic” and “fair trade” and “artisanal,” the most meaningless of them all. Rarely are these goods and services truly accessible and affordable.
  5. San Francisco becomes saturated with overpriced crap that is comparable in quality to less overpriced crap.
  6. Middle class and working class families and individuals in the community find themselves priced out of goods and services. Small businesses in those sectors languish.

Good toast and a plain cup of coffee shouldn’t cost $6. But I can’t imagine the tech community putting the brakes on this trend any time soon. We’re obsessed with false ideas of quality. We fetishize the precious processes and benchmarks and prices that, in reality, have no bearing on how good something is.

With quality of goods and services, there is a point where the average (and paychecks aside, most of us are average) consumer can no longer distinguish between a superior and a beyond superior good or service.

Take audio equipment. Most of us can’t really make an accurate distinction in quality between a $2,000 system and a $5,000 system, yet the price sends the message that the latter is somehow of higher quality. Those without common sense and with padded wallets buy the latter.

The same applies to wine, bread, coffee, etc. So why do we pay more when we can’t tell the difference?

In a word, we want to look smarter. Ours is an intellectual economy and one that prizes polyglotism. We want to show each other that we are amateur audio engineers and brewers and bakers, that we’re not only wealthy but also knowledgable to an unlikely extreme.

We want to look smarter, but in this case, the emperor has no clothes. Bake your own bread. Buy regular coffee. Save your money. Aspire to be wise rather than just knowledgable. And in the process, help to save San Francisco from yourselves.

After my $6 breakfast, I am still hungry. This, San Francisco techsters, is all your fault.*

*Spoken with tongue in cheek. A bit.