I'm reading Richard Florida's 2008 book "Who's Your City". In this book he asserts that the location where one lives has significant impact on every aspect of one's life. Therefore one should give it major consideration and choose it consciously.
I am only half way into the book. But I can't wait to voice my thought. I have already made the move to San Francisco and I am very satisfied with my choice. So I am not considering moving any time soon. However the book has inspired me to retrace my steps and to reflect on my decision.
I grew up in Hong Kong, earned my graduate degree and started my first job there. It has not occurred to me that I will be going anywhere. I don't have the resources to move, or so I thought. United States is a distant and foreign country. It feels, shall I say, a bit formidable. San Francisco is a place I vaguely associate with Golden Gate Bridge, cable car and earthquake. I knew no one there. So how do I ended up here?
My connection with the city starts with the wonder of the Internet. At that time, access to the Internet was a privilege available mainly to university students only. Few people outside of the computer science department are even aware of it. We put this coveted resources into good use with activities such as chatting online and spending hours plowing through the social network of that time, the Usenet newsgroup.
One of the newsgroup I visited is about bicycles. I learned about a group ride event happening in San Francisco. They would amass a lot of cyclists. Then they use their number to take over downtown streets, deliberately block off traffic intersections and causing traffic disruption at busy commute hour. This event, now famously known as the Critical Mass, continues to this day and has spread around the world. I learned about their riding strategy. I learned about their justification to their unlawful behavior. I was sitting in a computer room in the university lab half way around the globe. I was fascinated about what a small number of cyclists was doing in San Francisco. You bet there are some other people in London, in Paris, in Buenos Aires, or in Beijing are also paying attention to this.
The cyclists who started this probably have not imagined it will have a global impact. They have a nutty idea. They acted on it. They talked about it online. As a result they have exerted influence around the world. These people are very ordinary citizens without a lot of resources. Yet they can make an influence on par with Hollywood star or big corporate marketing campaign. Even to this day when everyone is suppose to have Internet access, I can still trace a disproportionate amount of new idea online originating from people around the San Francisco Bay Area. Richard Florida has it right. As far as creative idea goes, the world is not created equal.
I made my first visit to the United States in 1995 on a business trip. I used the opportunity to make a side trip to San Francisco. I have a pleasant time touring many tourists attractions. I have awed by the splendid of natural beauty in Yosemite. One thing not planned is that I ran into an event on the street. I took a picture of two queered man posed below.
This event is of course the annual Gay Pride Parade. If you have lived in San Francisco or other large city for some period of time, you may find this sight so common that you stop paying attention to it. But in 1995, this was quite a sight for me. While I held no judgment on homosexuality, it was still a eccentric idea to celebrate it openly. For this two men in drag to pose in front of a tourist definitely leave an impression on me.
Since I'm not gay, for a long time I'm not able to articulate why am I impressed. As I learned more about creativity and innovation and the culture that nurture it, it begins to make sense to me. Homosexuality breaks social rule. Rule breaking and a culture tolerant to rule breaking is an important ingredient to innovation. New ideas arise out of creative destruction.
One year latter my friend, who was working in the area, suggest to me to apply for jobs here. He graciously offered me a couch to stay. I was young. I have already moved to another city for what I've considered a temporary assignment. So I have little attachment to anything. The time was ripe for my transpacific migration.