Evgeny Morozov and Tim O’Reilly’s Twitter Debate About Silicon Valley and its Effect on San Francisco’s Culture

san francisco - morozov - o'reilly

There’s an interesting debate that’s beginning to brew on Twitter between:

  • Evgeny Morozov, journalist, social commentator and author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, published in 2011. The book’s thesis is that while the internet is seen as a democratizing force, the Western world’s “cyber-utopian” rose-coloured glasses blinds it to its dark side, in which it “entrenches dictators, threatens dissidents, and makes it harder — not easier — to promote democracy.
  • Tim O’Reilly, probably the best-known tech book publisher, founder of O’Reilly Media and all-round champion of the Free Software and Open Source movements.

The debate began with this tweet:

The essay in question is a diary entry by San Francisco-based writer Rebecca Solnit, author of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, an exploration of the city through many different points of view. The entry appears in the February 7, 2013 edition of the London Review of Books (and online here), and it looks at the detrimental effect of the culture of Silicon Valley on San Francisco. She writes that like the prospectors from the Gold Rush, who came to the area to get rich and whose wealth allowed them to take over the place, the techies who come to the Bay Area today are displacing those who have called the place home for decades:

A Latino who has been an important cultural figure for forty years is being evicted while his wife undergoes chemotherapy. One of San Francisco’s most distinguished poets, a recent candidate for the city’s poet laureate, is being evicted after 35 years in his apartment and his whole adult life here: whether he will claw his way onto a much humbler perch or be exiled to another town remains to be seen, as does the fate of a city that poets can’t afford. His building, full of renters for most or all of the past century, including a notable documentary filmmaker, will be turned into flats for sale. A few miles away, friends of friends were evicted after twenty years in their home by two Google attorneys, a gay couple who moved into two separate units in order to maximise their owner-move-in rights. Rental prices rose between 10 and 135 per cent over the past year in San Francisco’s various neighbourhoods, though thanks to rent control a lot of San Franciscans were paying far below market rates even before the boom – which makes adjusting to the new market rate even harder. Two much-loved used bookstores are also being evicted by landlords looking for more money; 16 restaurants opened last year in their vicinity. On the waterfront, Larry Ellison, the owner of Oracle and the world’s sixth richest man, has been allowed to take control of three city piers for 75 years in return for fixing them up in time for the 2013 America’s Cup; he will evict dozens of small waterfront businesses as part of the deal.

Here’s an excerpt from its final paragraph:

I think of it as frontierism, with all the frontier’s attitude and operational style, where people without a lot of attachments come and do things without a lot of concern for their impact, where money moves around pretty casually, and people are ground underfoot equally casually. Sometimes the Google Bus just seems like one face of Janus-headed capitalism; it contains the people too valuable even to use public transport or drive themselves. In the same spaces wander homeless people undeserving of private space, or the minimum comfort and security; right by the Google bus stop on Cesar Chavez Street immigrant men from Latin America stand waiting for employers in the building trade to scoop them up, or to be arrested and deported by the government. Both sides of the divide are bleak, and the middle way is hard to find.

It reminds me of Paulina Borsook’s Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High Tech, published back in 2001, as well as her 1999 essay, How the Internet Ruined San Francisco, which I read prior to moving there to contribute to the ruination.

Strangely enough, there’s no Wikipedia entry for Paulina Borsook, even though she’s notable enough to warrant her own page. Perhaps the Wikipedians (a rather huffy libertarian bunch, from the sound of them) aren’t too keen on her. I’m not the only one who’s noticed this recently.

In response to Morozov’s initial tweet, Tim O’Reilly posted this:

…and thus began the debate:

If you’d like to see the full exchange, complete with sabre-rattling and cheering bystanders, it’s here.

While I understand and even sympathize with Morozov’s point of view — I’ve seen what he and Solnit are talking about first-hand — he comes off as being a bit of a dick. Perhaps it’s my bias: I know Tim O’Reilly, and the last time I saw him (at SxSW 2012), he stood up from the middle of his conversation, yelled “Joey!” and gave me a big hug.

As much as I like watching a good heated exchange, I’m with Jeff Sonstein, who tweeted this comment in the middle of the back-and-forth between Morozov and O’Reilly:

They would be useful discussions, and not just in terms of the relationship of Silicon Valley and San Francisco. They’d be applicable to any city undergoing a transformation due to changes in the economy, or an influx of new people, or even just plain old gentrification. Do newcomers to a city have responsibilities ensure that their disruption is minimal to those who already live there? Are the private systems like the Google Bus, which hauls Google employees to work, merely a practical way to let employees enjoy city life at home and still work in Mountain View, deep in the exurbs, or is it a snobbish way of shielding the tech aristocracy from the local hoi polloi? Does the “I’m building the future” mindset blind us to our actions, letting us carelessly destroy the past?

As techies, these are questions we have to at least consider, if not answer.


Union Workstation and Our Coworking Space Office-warming Party on Friday, February 1st!

union workstation

I spent most of this weekend moving stuff into Union Workstation, the office for my mobile tech consultancy / mobile app development shop CTS and coworking space. There’s still a fair bit of work to be done, but as of Monday, January 28th, 2013, Union Workstation will be in operation!

If you’re in the tech or creative fields and are looking for some prime shared office space in a great area of downtown Toronto, Union Station has a lot to offer, and we’re looking for people to fill our four office rooms. If you’re interested in taking a look, contact me at (647) 985-5639 or drop me a line at

And now, the tour!

The Building

View Larger Map

Union Workstation is located at 144 Front Street West, suite 655, at the corner of Front Street and University Avenue, with the main entrance between the Loose Moose and Jack Astor’s. We’re a stone’s throw away from Union Station (hence our name), the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the PATH and the financial district. The building is an old factory/warehouse that’s been nicely renovated; most of the offices within have some exposed brick walls and wooden beams, and the owners have taken great care to spruce up the hallways…


…and the bathrooms as well:


The owners are also in the process of installing a new cooling tower in order to improve the building’s air conditioning.

The Space

Here’s Union Workstation’s floor plan. My company, CTS, will take the open space just past the lobby and the small office in the southwest corner. The other four offices, named for local streets and subway stations, are available for rent:

Union Workstation floor plan

Click the plan to see it at full size.

The rental rates for each of the rooms are as follows:

Room Size Monthly rate
Simcoe 125 sq. ft. $1199
St. Andrew 203 sq. ft. $1599
Union 228 sq. ft. $1799
King 246 sq. ft. $1999


We’re also offering individual desks at $500/month. These rates include Beanfield’s 100meg internet service and cleaning staff.

Photo Tour

Here’s a quick tour of Union Workstation, featuring photos I took when we moved in:


cts office main


union room

st andrew room

king room

simcoe room



That’s right, Union Workstation has a shower! It’s perfect for bike commuters, and I plan to make use of it when biking in to work, which I do reasonably often.


move 1

We’ve had great luck so far with this place — not just with finding it, but also with furnishing it. Heather Williams and our friends at Axiom Metrics were moving offices and had a lot of desks, cubicles and tables that they needed to get rid of in very short order, for free! The stuff arrived Friday evening, and we’ve been assembling it all weekend.

Jesse and I have matching desks in the open area by the lobby. We’re more than happy to offer the rooms with doors to Union Workstation’s members. I don’t mind working in the open, and hey, someone has to be the coworking space’s “cruise director”…

move 2

We still have a number of nice executive-grade desks and bookshelves that can be reconfigured in a number of ways. They’re available to Union Workstation tenants on a first-come first-served basis — the sooner you sign up, the better your selection will be!

move 3

We also got a large set of cubicles. After doing a little work, we found a way to take these soulless veal-fattening pens and “furniture hack” them into handy-dandy desks with built-in pinboards, like the one shown below.

move 4

Last but not least, we also got Axiom Metrics’ old air hockey table!

move 5

Additional improvements to the place will be made over the coming weeks, but the best thing we can put into our coworking space is you!

The Office-Warming Party

office party

In order to celebrate our getting the space into operation as well as to introduce the community to Union Workstation, we’re holding a little beer-and-pizza get-together this Friday, February 1st, between 4 and 7 p.m.. Come on down, take a look at the space, get to know us and see if we’re right for you!

Once again, we’re at:
144 Front Street West, just west of University and Union Station
Suite 655 (6th floor)

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


Strange Artifacts From a Forgotten Era

floppy disks

Today’s the day we properly move into our new office. As I write this (Friday, January 25th, 2013 at 8:18 p.m.), the furniture — greatly delayed by elevator girdlock followed by traffic and snow — is coming off the trucks, and the internet’s been hooked up for hours.

While doing the rounds of the new place, Jesse stumbled across an unopened, undented box of 3.5″ floppy diskettes. It’s been at least half a decade since I’ve even had a computer with a floppy disk drive! I think I’m going to put it on display on my desk at the office.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


My Cure for Insomnia: Updating the Hell Out of My LinkedIn Profile

Paul Baranowski, Joey deVilla and a wild-eyed John "Captain Crunch" Draper

Beware the powerful stare of Captain Crunch. You know what I’m talking about…

There’s a lot going on today for me: I’m getting some much-needed plumbing repairs done, putting together a proposal for a big consulting gig, moving into a new office and trying to launch a coworking space. Understandably, I had a little trouble getting to sleep, so I decided to be productive and update the hell out of my LinkedIn profile. If you check it out now, you’ll see that it now includes a lot of media links, including an article from Der Spiegel about Peekabooty, the censor-busting proxy application that Paul Baranowski built and for which I programmed and designed the UI (also the last time I did any coding in C++). I can’t read German, so for me, the article is most notable for one of its photos (shown above) featuring Paul, me and a wild-eyed John “Captain Crunch” Draper taking a break from CodeCon 2002 in San Francisco.

Also featured in my LinkedIn profile: Developer Jr., in which my fantasy to host a Sesame Street-style show for kids came true…

…this hastily-put together clip in which I talk about HTML5 and rich internet applications (which Microsoft may have disavowed)…

…and that time when my fantasy to play the opening number for a big keynote at a developer conference came true…

It would appear that LinkedIn approves of the changes, judging by it’s “Profile Strength” gauge:
profile strength - all star
If you’re bored, go ahead and check out my LinkedIn profile. If you’re feeling inspired, go ahead and update yours!

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


Learn About Building Firefox OS Mobile Apps This Saturday (January 26th) in Toronto!

Firefox OS logoWhat, yet another mobile OS?

Well, yes, but this one’s Firefox OS, which means that you probably already know how to write apps for it. Firefox OS apps are mobile web apps, which mean they’ll run on all modern mobile and desktop devices, and they’re written with HTML, CSS and JavaScript. This Saturday, January 26th, the Toronto Mozilla office will host a Firefox OS App Day, where you can start creating mobile apps for the Firefox Marketplace and the upcoming Firefox OS phone. Friendly Mozillians will show you the tools and technologies to get started, as well as show Firefox OS apps in action.

All you’ll need to bring is your favourite development machine, whether it runs Linux, Mac OS or Windows, as well as your mobile device. They’ll provide everything else.

If you’re a keener and want to do some advance reading, these docs should prove useful:

Here’s the schedule:

Time What’s Happening
9:30 a.m. Registration, breakfast and set-up
10:30 a.m. Event start, with introduction by emcee
10:40 a.m. Creating Apps for Firefox OS (2 hour session)
12:40 p.m. Hacking and lunch! You’ve got 4 and a half hours to eat and work on your Firefox OS project.
5:00 p.m. Demo of “Dr. Gleaming”, a Firefox OS homework app
5:30 p.m. Demos! Here’s when participants show off the apps they build during the day. They’re hoping to have 8 demos, each about 5 minutes in length.
6:15 p.m. Awards and raffle
6:30 p.m. Closing messages
7:00 p.m. To the pub!
9:00 p.m. official end of the event, but still the party rages on into the night!


The Firefox OS App Day takes place this Saturday, January 26th from 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (with the event proper starting at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 7:00 p.m.) at the Toronto Mozilla Office (366 Adelaide Street West, just east of Spadina). Registration is free, but spaces are limited, so if you’re interested, register now!

I’ve already registered, and I’ll see you there!


Shopify’s Looking for a Toronto-Based Social Media and Community Manager

Joey deVilla and Mark HayesMy friend Mark Hayes, one of the marketing guys at my former workplace, Shopify, is looking for a Toronto-based social media and community manager. Shopify, in case you’re not familiar with the company, is a wildly successful ecommerce platform that’s moved over a billion — that’s right, billion with a b — dollars worth of goods since its inception about five years ago. It’s one of Canada’s biggest startup success, and a great place to work.

He’s using Reddit’s “Toronto” subreddit to find this social media and community manager. Here’s what he posted:

Hey r/Toronto:

My name is Mark and I work at an ecommerce platform called Shopify. This week, I plan on hiring someone from r/Toronto to be our social media and community manager. If you’re really, really, ridiculously good at social media and want to work at an awesome company – read on.

Why I’m on r/Toronto:

I need to hire a social media and community manager in Toronto. Last time I hired someone (a marketing copywriter), I made it a public job posting. I received over 800 applications… going through them all was awful.

This time, I’m not making a public job posting. I plan on finding our new social media manager this week on r/Toronto. Yes, I have that much confidence in the power of Reddit. :-)

I’m working out of Shopify’s Toronto office until Friday and would love to grab coffee with Toronto’s best social media people. Here’s a bit about working at Shopify:

  • Exciting challenges to face, and problems to solve every day!
  • Competitive salary
  • Shares in the company
  • Flexible work hours
  • Free house cleaning service
  • Free gym membership
  • Office 5 min from Union Station
  • More here.
About Shopify:

How to get hired: Shoot me an email, with a short intro and links to a couple of your social media platforms. Also please include a link to your LinkedIn, but if you don’t have one – don’t worry. No resume, cover letter or any of that stuff. I’ll respond to anyone who I would like to get to know a bit better and we’ll grab a coffee sometime this week!

Also, of course feel free to chat w/ me in the comments here. Thanks so much r/Toronto!

Edit: It occurred to me that those who want this job may downvote to decrease visibility of this post and increase their chances. Please don’t. :-) I hope to have as many coffees as possible this week, so chances are I’ll get to meet most who apply!

If you’re in the social media / community management line of work and are looking for a great gig, this is it! Be sure to drop Mark a line and tell him Joey sent you!

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.


I’ll Admit It; I’d Get One

bowl phone cradle

During those rare lunches when I eat alone, this bowl/smartphone cradle might come in handy.

This article also appears in Mobilize!: The CTS Mobile Tech Blog.