San Fransocial

So I’m here in Paris, tonight at a mini Bar Camp meetup — having a cappucino with emincé de tomate et mozzarella, and there’s about 15 of us here. Presumably we’re going to talk about the Bar Camp Paris event coming up in the spring at some point but for now, we’re happily eating, drinking and… geeking out.

And in that, there’s something interesting — something changing. I’m going to call it “San Fransocialing” or “being San Franciscosocial”.

Basically it’s something that a lot of us do already, but seems particularly accepted, or native at least, within the original San Fran crew. So you show up somewhere where there are other people you’re going to “meet” and when you arrive, out come the laptops. What follows has to be something of an evolution in social behavior: instead of the old chat, look at each other in the eye, sip, drink, speak, listen, respond and on and on, you have these myriad verbal, non-verbal and digital communication methods happening simultaneously, spontaneously and asynchronously.

Consider this: here I am in this cafe-slash-bar-slash-restaurant and I’ve got Skype, Adium, Colloquy, Thunderbird, Flock with Gmail, Plazes all running at the same time over the free wifi… all on in order to keep in touch and communicate with the people in my life. Meanwhile, I’m having conversations in real time, in person, with as many as four or five people at a time. This is normal for me. This is … usual. This isn’t even overload. Somehow, I can handle all this simultaneous stimulation. Must be the video games I played when I was younger. Yep, everything bad was good for me!

And one last closing note… while fluttery and not always as deep, the communication and conversations are nevertheless valid, important, real and essential. The quality is not dimished, but it is different. Ah, que sera, sera.

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Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

19 thoughts on “San Fransocial”

  1. “the communication and conversations are nevertheless valid, important, real and essential. The quality is not diminished, but it is different.”

    Vive les geeks! Rock on my San Fransocial partner-in-crime! 😉

  2. More left brain/right brain stuff with regards to those of us able to multi-task and those who don’t as we discussed in the LesBlog chat. Many people will find this foreign, but it is just a part of our culture and is totally acceptable. In fact it is one of those defining characteristics of the culture (there are hundreds so dont try to categorize it)

    Another point to consider though is how others receive this style of communications. In chat it is invisible, but in person is another story. While we all accept it because we all do it, when meeting others they may find it rude or anti-social – most people like being listened to more than they like talking.

    Looks like a lot of great ideas came from Paris – looking forward to reconnecting when you return.

  3. @ChrisHeuer — I agree… I mean, we’re going to seem strange if not a bit anti-social when engaging in this kind of behavior around other people or in a social situation not used to this behavior. But the fact of the matter is that we’re actually becoming more connected, more social, and more engaged (potentially) than those around us.

    At least when there’s wifi. 😉

    Still, I had an interesting experience with Tantek a few weeks back when he and I went to a bar in the Haight, got ourselves a drink, sat down in a table out back and with no wifi, spent the next 45 minutes geeking out, barely talking, yet nevertheless appreciating the physical proximity of working close. We got some odd looks, but relatively few, suggesting that person+laptop is becoming more and more of a common phenomenon. What we need now is a laptop design that actually encourages both f2f interaction in person while sharing that interaction with people remote.

    Real life becomes the backchannel?

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  5. @Franck: yeah, I totally agree. Frankly, we need San Fransocial spaces — where you pay a monthly rental fee or something!

    A friend of mine told me about this woman who would come in to Ritual Roasters day after day while he was working on a news story, and she would just plop down with her laptop, stay for a few hours and leave.

    He confronted her one day and was like, “So, do you ever buy anything?” And she was like, “Um… no? Uhm..”

    She came in the next day, bought a water, stayed a couple hours again and left.

    So yeah, apparently we’ve got a find a way to be San Fransocial while also supporting the businesses we’re San Fransocializing in!

  6. > when meeting others they may find it rude or anti-social –
    > most people like being listened to more than they like
    > talking.

    While I’m a total geek, I count myself among those “others” who finds it both rude and distressing to see people multitasking when I’m communicating with them… or attempting to communicate.

    When you’re in my home or having coffee with me, you damn well better turn OFF the flippin’ phone (or at least put it on vibrate), and turn OFF the laptop, unless we’re looking at pictures or listening to music TOGETHER.

    And even then, frankly, I’d rather drink a cup of coffee with you and CHAT.

    And by chat, I mean in person. Looking into each others’ eyes. Maybe putting a hand on each others’ shoulders for emphasis. And concentrating on each other (or, if in a group, on the group) 100%.

    Hey, look, I use Trillian. I used to use IRC a bunch. I like e-mail. I’ve used Skype. And yes, I’ll admit that — somewhat hypocritically — I’ve gone to meetings on occasion and spent time checking my e-mail.

    But still, there’s something sacred and IMPORTANT about in-person communications, IMHO, that demand one’s full attention.

    And yes, this means I also abhor the ‘backchannel’ at conferences. Taking notes… that’s fine. But chatting with others to deride or “augment” the speaker? That’s crappy.

    Boring speaker? Leave the room or hire a different speaker. If a speaker is boring enough, often enough, hopefully they won’t be asked back.

    Maybe, at 34 years old, I’m just an aging old luddite… but I do tech stuff full time for a living. I like geekery. I just wish that — once it helped bring people together — that people would actually ENJOY that time with others they’re literally faced with and not feel compelled to be multitasking.

  7. Adam, I think your points are also valid and well-taken. I typically consider myself a luddite even though when I say that, people usually look at my cock-eyed.

    But it’s true — there’s absolutely something sacred in having one-to-one or one-to-few conversations. And I think that those conversations actually happen more often in the context of San Fransocializing.

    Let me propose a clarification. It seems to me that the traditional view of geeks pegs them as smelly, socially inept dweebs, locked up in their bedrooms or basements and trolling IRC. I’m sure that actually was the reality for some time. But this new generation of geeks, hey, we like being social and being out around our friends and other people. But we also like to use our gadgets and stay connected to people who aren’t physically present.

    You mentioned the backchannel as a distraction — and that if a speaker is no good, well, get up and leave. I heard this argument before and it doesn’t real hold muster. I mean, consider Les Blogs. People paid for that conference. A number of the panels were basic and not terribly challenging. Yet the backchannel discourse was humourous, engaging and personal. When there wasn’t enough intellectual fodder being tossed around on stage, we made up for it in the backchannel. Did it get out of hand? Anh, I dunno, we were thinking those thoughts anyway. And I just don’t follow the rule that “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” We don’t have our vaunted Freedom of Speech for nothing.

    But ok ok, so I alluded to the last point I want to make about this: more than ever, we’re able to be inclusive and rope in folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to participate in conversations and dialogues that once were the mores of the wealthy, the elite, the sophisticated. We’re overrunning those channels with amateurs, uncooth debutantes with all the ego of a Mac truck. And sorry, but we’re not going away.

    Maybe, as Mena was suggesting, we need to teach politeness in kindergarten again. I’d be for that. Kids are learning to swear before they’re potty-trained and something seems off about that. I mean, it’s just language, but hey, let’s clean up our behavior offline before we impose the manner-police on the web. At least online you can close your browser, kill IRC, junk and email or shut the damn box off. In real life, hey, you really don’t have so much control over your social environment. Get what I mean?

  8. I am not sure this is a San Francisco thing as much as it is our culture. I have been traveling a lot this past year. I see this pattern an aweful lot. I also saw it in the mid-90s when laptops became laptops. I see more people in Europe using their mobile in this multi-social capacity than laptops.

    When I am traveling I often have my laptop with me, but when I am near home I most often an out with a much smaller device (Treo). My laptop is my portable office, but my Treo is my personal communication device. Increasingly, there are many occasions where I have both. As I am moving back into serious project work, my laptop is increasingly with me (but it is also my desktop – for now).

    The rudeness I think correlates to whom we are interacting. If it is geek, the laptops are out and mobiles clicking. If it is not geek, I am less inclined to do so. But, I will pop out the laptop or mobile for a quick demo or to show an example. I also will pull out graph paper and illustrate.

    This last trip in England I had meetings where my laptop stayed tucked away while discussing business, but also had social occasions where I found the bar had wifi and all the laptops popped out while we chatted multi-socially and drank beers. I also had business meetings where all the parties had their laptops out taking notes (to ensure everything was captured) and quick references could be checked, even with no connectivity.

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