Friday, December 11, 2009

#31 The 6s/7s Who Think They're 9s

-"San francisco? seriously? where all the 6s and 7s think they're 10s and 11s?" (Yelp)

-"The Bay Area is full of girls who THINK they're hot but really aren't." (City-data)

-"Apparently many of the good men of San Francisco have decided that women are too uppity for their own good." (Craigslist)

-"All the women i[n] SF are 6s but they have the additude [sic] of 10s." (Yelp)

The statement is final and unwavering and the statement is this: SF women are 6s (or 7s) who think they are 9s. The fact of this is experienced so routinely and unavoidably that expression of it is no longer really controversial. It's barely interesting. It's like saying Dane Cook is a horrible comedian or people with eye-patches creep you out. It's not nice and it's kind of juvenile but it's also the structure of reality as objectively perceived. It's an assumption among friends, an ice-breaker among strangers, a talking point for Gavin Newsom in a pinch. Colleagues, people at parties, a random Brazilian girl outside of Mauna Loa. Everyone agrees. 6s who think they're 9s, yep, and don't you love red wine! Sean Hannity makes me sad!*

There's a mess of things going on here but let's start with two curiosities. First, the statement reflects what may be the most weirdly specific yet universally shared aesthetic judgment of the post-Internet era. People can't even agree that No Country for Old Men was a good movie but if someone went around saying SF women are 3s (or 8s or 4s) SFers would tell him to get lost. Shut the hell up, they'd say. You're thinking of Bakersfield. Moron. Liar. It's 6s and (sometimes) 7s, open your eyes and pull it together.**

Second, if it's true people can clearly distinguish a 6 from a 9, just like they can distinguish a fat person from a skinny one, then tens of thousands of SF women believing they're 9s when they are in fact 6s*** would seem to mean, essentially, that these women are insane. This, it turns out, is precisely what leading academics now theorize.

In the spring of 2009 a pair of research psychologists named Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell published a book arguing that recent cultural developments, things like over-indulgent parenting, youtube and Carrie Prejean, have caused young American women to become delusional egomaniacs. They called this a "narcissism epidemic" and put forth a good deal of data and definitions to support it, far more in fact than they probably needed since the central idea - that women under 30 increasingly present a wildly unrealistic (in fact pathological) picture of their own success to themselves and to their peers - was embraced and confirmed wholesale by just about every publication (The WSJ, the Daily Mail, Newsweek, the Guardian, et al.) that reviewed the book.****

All this seems a neat and easy umbrella explanation, a real time-saver, for the sub-epidemic of SF 6s who think they're 9s, but local SF opinion suggests something more complex is happening. When people say SF women think they're 9s, they don't seem to mean it literally. No one really contends SF women possess the clinical characteristics of pathological narcissists: constantly seeking attention or worshiping material wealth and (God knows) physical appearance. No one contends that SF women are from Florida.

The implication is more subtle: less that SF women are unable to differentiate between the world as it is and the world as they want it to be and more that they are self-consciously posturing and hoping no one will notice, similar to the way Padma Lakshmi pretends she has something to add or really any business being on Top Chef. There is a sense by this account in which SF women DO believe they're 9s but only in the manner that Christopher Hitchens says most religious proselytizers believe in heaven: which is to say they don't. They reason they won't shut up about the afterlife and why you should fear it is because deep down they know it doesn't exist.

The cheesebally indictment that SF women think they're 9s is, at base, just a vague claim that a disportionately large percentage of SF women are opportunists; that they are smart and calculating and intuitively understand a curious and fundamental aspect of epistemology and human relations: if you convince enough people to believe in something, that something becomes true. Nothing else matters.

In the context of the SF social scene such posturing sort of works but mostly it doesn't. It works more than it would in say Chicago, New York, Atlanta, or anywhere else with a less desperate male-female ratio ("If there are a large number of desirable members of one's own sex available, one may regard one's own market value as lower," researchers reported in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin) but by wide account it is still a failed strategy. The only people who fall for it are the same blockheads who couldn't figure out Chris Gaines was Garth Brooks.*****

The underlying trouble is that an inordinate number of SF women aren't off the mark by much. They're in shape (Crunch Fitness!). They're higher educated (Go Bears!). They're technically stylish (layers!) and socially savvy (He's Just Not That Into You!) and mostly symmetrically featured (sample sale at Sephora!). A decade after getting laughed off the high school cheer-leading squad, they've overachieved their way into the vicinity of the Golden Circle.****** But they're still outside. They live in the halo. They Just Miss.

Just Missing******* is not right or wrong in any moral sense but it is impossibly awkward. The paradigmatic example is the guy who is handsome, clever, and well-built but, at the same time, 5 foot 7. Every grad school class or large corporate office has one of these dudes. He is secretly obsessed with his looks and all the cute girls platonically flirt with (but never date) him and even though he is vaguely cool and caddish he somehow doesn't seem to have any close friends and deep down you suspect he is miserable.

His curse is this: he's fractionally too short to be a Mark Whalberg man-on-campus and fractionally too tall to be a Dudley Moore diminutive wiseacre. He misses by one and a half inches in either direction. And worse, he lives out his days experiencing these brief, throw-away moments when, because everyone around happens to be seated or Asian or he's rollerblading, the world actually perceives and treats him as the unchallenged alpha. He'll spend three months getting used to being above-average ordinary, and then boom! this completely different, totally superior existence is thrown in his face for a moment or two before being ripped away. He'll never grow that one and half inches, and for this he's almost certainly doomed to the comparative obscurity of being pretty cool/athletic/handsome for a short guy, but he never feels 100% sure. There's no one in Palm Beach County to retally the votes and make an official pronouncement. So he can't let go and he can't get comfortable. He's consumed by vain ambitions and counterfactual thinking.

There are other examples of course but the same emotional affect governs them all. Just Missers are prone to a special brand of cognitive dissonance, whereby they constantly try to re-engineer (just slightly) the prevailing value system in order to invalidate the relevance of the one or two immutable traits (5ft6half!/flat-chested!/didn't get into Kellog!) that are the true and only barriers between them and wild social success but simultaneously they sense such efforts are futile - they are self-conscious of their plight - so they never stop feeling insecure and frustrated which makes them act out (at least in some situations), which is confusing (and frankly a bit irritating) to everyone else, because Just Missers burn so many calories trying to convince others that they are blithe and "above it" like elite people are supposed to be.

Self-ware SF 7s, for example, will, in order to avoid environments in which they might be judged solely on their appearance, do things like promote day culture and frequent wine bars and wear layers and, in order to avoid direct comparison to more physically beautiful women, express a haughty animus towards the "Bridge and Tunnel" chicks or LA girls and anywhere either might show up, and these carefully and studiuosly cultivated attitudes will - for a time - make them feel like 8s or 9s but only so long as larger, more powerful leveling forces, such as a romantic relationship, Perez Hilton or a nervous guy on MUNI making a bold move, are squared off and kept at bay, and all of this together tends to make the SF 7s feel genuinely fabulous and superior and also genuinely bereft and alienated. It's a wierd dichotomy to be packaged together in one person, you can't decide if it's cool or pathetic, if they are the tormented Sisyphusean hero or the dumb kid who puts on a cape and jumps off the roof.

What does this mean for the future? Twenge and Campell ultimately concluded that the epidemic of narcissism was a very bad thing ********, but the more reasonable conclusion is, who the f*ck knows, and the same goes for the localized SF epidemic of Just Missers. Once a conventionally aberrational pathology like Narcissism or Just Missing becomes normalized, conventional consequences may cease to apply. If everybody's crazy, well, nobody's crazy and humanity, with a few muttered grumblings and the magic of In Vitro, will abide.

*The companion cliche of course is that SF men are pencil necked nerds. 5s and 6s at best. Everyone also agrees on that. But no one contends SF men are nerds who think they're underwear models. They may be chauvinists with a sense of entitlement, the thinking goes, but (for the most part) they aren't delusional.

**Additional point of clarification: the 1-10 grading scale is the prevailing gold standard for assessing the attractiveness of individual persons while simultaneously being a jerk. It is accurate to the half decimal. The Gaussian function or bell curve of the measure would seem to defy application to a city-sized population of people (i.e., all large groups randomly (i.e., naturally) distributed should be "full of 5s") but due to complex sociological and economic factors (some of which this blog has attempted to research and explain) this is not the case. A city can indeed be disproportionately full of 6s. Like that situation with all the securitized mortgage debt, it is a case of humans failing to meet the expectations of mathematical models.

***Let's put aside for now the feasibility of knowing (from an arm-chair/bar-stool perspective and with inordinate precision) what is happening inside other people's brains. The feat seems more tricky that it probably is. If you've ever been to the Las Vegas strip on a Friday at 9 PM, for example, regardless of the season, you somehow know that 80% of the men who travel to Nevada are always exactly 93% mistaken that they will get laid that evening.

****It should be noted that although Twenge and Campbell emphasize that the recent rise in narcissism disproportionately affects females, their research also shows that men on the average (in no small part because of Floyd Meriweather and that cheese nug married to Heidi Montag remain the (slightly) more narcisstic gender.

*****As well as that disturbing demographic of humanity that is over-eager to suspend disbelief, including movies goers who enjoyed Independence Day and the guys who pick up trannies at the corner of Pine and Larkin.

******America loves the Da Vinci Code but the less publicized Golden Circle is far more relevant. Conventional wisdom and intuition dictates that the attractiveness of a person is relative to that of the person doing the assessment. But that's not the way desire actually works. This is (conceptually) absurd and why we laughed when George Constanza rejected a woman for being bald but it's also social fact. A girl is - objectively - either beautiful enough to be in the Golden Circle or she's not. If we use the 1-10 grading scale of aesthetics as a crude approximation, if you're an 8 or above you're in the Golden Circle (and curiously, everybody intuitively knows EXACTLY who this is) and further, once you're deemed to be in the Golden Circle, personality is (basically) all that matters. You can fight over who's technically more georgeous or whatever but that hair-splitting is basically irrelevant wrt personal relationships. That next-door-cute Spanish chick married to Matt Damon may be less stunning than about a ten thousand models running around Hollywood but it doesn't matter since she (presumably) has more charisma.

*******Seminal to the Just Miss Theory is a book titled Americana by Don Delillo (in the relevant part, a girl wants to know if the protagonist thinks she's pretty. He tells her, "I think you just miss"). Drew Barrymore, by being Drew Barrymore, is also an influence.

********Specifically T &C claim narcissism is "corrosive" and "toxic" for society and their reasoning on this point is quite funny. According to Twenge, although it's commonly believed that overconfidence is socially advantageous the data indicates the opposite - that narcissism proper "tends to blow up in [narcissists'] face[s]" due to the underestimation of risks. Get enough of these people together the argument goes, and society falls apart. Relationships are sabotaged, surgeries botched, iPhones toyed with at 72 mph. It's suicide by incompetence. Relatedly or not, this brings to mind a brilliant New Yorker humor piece in which the author conceives a TV show in which ordinary people everywhere begin to sense they have superhuman powers (e.g., flight, invisibility, etc.), the hook of the show being these people don't actually have superpowers (e.g., they fall off rooves, run the streets nude, etc.), and the twist being these people eventually start to lose their normal abilities ("a Japanese lady forgets how to speak Japanese, a Texas woman forgets how to chew").

Saturday, December 5, 2009

#30 Airplanes

According to modern and vaguely populist (at least in America) economic theory, no one should get emotional about anything. Rare (but regular) market disturbances aside, like Texas-sized meteors or Pauly Shore, everything that happens in a free society is totally reasonable. Talents and hard work are recognized in due proportion. Resources shift in measured response to supply and demand. The universe makes sense. It is what it is. Sit down and shut up.

The larger ontological philosophy here is that the fact of something (e.g., Life is nasty, brutish and short) is far more significant than the essence of something (e.g., Life is “beautiful”), because the former drives self-seeking behavior while the latter makes people discuss Thomas Pynchon novels and surrender to Germans. The idea is, in other words, that abstract (as opposed to utilitarian) thinking about external pressures has almost no extrinsic value. Asking what it means to be hunted by a Nazi, for example, while you're being chased by a Nazi, is an awful misuse of resources and frankly, a bit pretentious. Just run, a**hole.

Which brings us to airplanes. Airplanes like Louis CK says are amazing. In a concrete, sort of frightening way airplanes demonstrate godlike capacities to overcome normally applicable laws of nature. Sitting in a chair in a metal box hurtling through the air is psychologically staggering but visceral and tangible enough that we can figure out what is happening. Any six year old will find an iPhone or microwave useful but a 747 Jumbo Jet? That will blow his mind.

The freakiness of air travel has this less obvious effect: it forces us to think about conditions that are otherwise unconnected to our normal life. We board the metal box at SFO with a presumptively fixed model of reality and three hours later we're in the Houston airport confronted with events and people invalidating that model. Halter tops! Tan legs! U of T co-eds! Holy sh*t! We stumble about wild-eyed and mumbling, pointing at comely lasses and square jawed lads, stupefied as to why everyone else is acting unfazed, like they're characters in some TV show like House or Grey's Anatomy and there's some code never to mention how statistically improbable it is that everyone around them is uncommonly attractive. Why aren't these people acting equally astonished? we wonder. If they went into a hospital and all the doctors in the immunology department were, say, 6 foot 11, wouldn't they obsess on it? "F*ck my cell counts," wouldn't they say, "I want to know about the hiring policy?"

On one level the shock SF travelers experience is sourced by the sudden awareness (or reminder) that in places other than San Francisco reality routinely includes physically appealing people. This discovery is confirmed over and over again during our travels and put in startlingly sharp and sort of comic relief the Thursday after we return when we're at the W Hotel in SOMA having a vodka soda and surveying the array of local aesthetic atrocities - weak chins, cankles, cross-ethnic facial lopsidedness - on unknowing display.

On another level, however, is something more existentially thorny. Airplanes create a demarcation problem. Where precisely do we fix the boundaries of our dating pool?

Air travel, like many non-Nazi evasion situations, challenges our capacity to limit the scope of meaningful external pressures to those actually impinging upon us in the moment. It blurs the boundaries between what exists as an emotionally resonant concept and what exists in fact. If San Francisco realities mandate we date someone who is a 5.5 (on the imaginary universal scale of attractiveness) does it matter that we'd be dating a 7 if we hypothetically lived in Omaha? The answer is: well, maybe.

By far the most interesting thing about human connection is that it can transcend the typically contextually relevant stuff like geography and time and, you know, death. The idea of a person - their style, attitude, hips to waist ratio - tends to trump the comparatively more trivial fact of them actually being around. The man or woman who you are mostly deeply and forever in love with, for example, is probably someone you saw for ten seconds standing in line for a pretzel at Shea Stadium five years ago.

But it's insane to live your life thinking that way. It's emotional nonsense. If that person was truly a good and strategic match for you the laws of supply and demand would have ineluctably pushed her your way.

Except that's not true either. Realities however manifested (e.g., Nob Hill versus Nebraska) are both fixed and unfixed in the literal sense. There are unknowns. There are unknown unknowns. Maybe our company will open an office in Omaha. Maybe we'll move there with the 5.5 we finally married. Maybe our new secretary will be a charismatic 7 who bleeds Mets blue. Maybe she'll be wearing a style of panties we've never heard of. The set of environmental facts we were supposed to care about and accept as unchangeable may stop mattering.

This may seem like a lot to extrapolate from commercial aeronautics. But we all sort of use this messy logic. A 7 is reluctant to settle for a 6 who thinks she is an 8 partly because he perceives that outcome as inequitable (by the same totally abstract, criteria-free, essentially insane measure that sent humanity into a collective furor when that cheese ball gypsy David Copperfield started hooking up with Claudia Shiffer) but also because he doesn't live on a homestead in the western expansion. In his world the Wright Brothers have happened. He knows his commitment won't survive the next business trip to Chicago.

It would be so much simpler if this wasn't the case. If it took 6 months to get to Reno, SF ladies would start looking real fine. On the downside the economy would be based on beaver pelts and gold nuggets. Half of us would end up shot or in county prisons. The less hirsute men would start looking real fine. Maybe the lesson is that life's confusing. It never is what it is. Especially when you want it to be.

Monday, November 9, 2009

#29 The NorCal - SoCal Rivalry

Nearly everyone has a high school experience that feels both very specific and totally stereotypical. This phenomenon screws with our ability to remember things straight: high school is lived as a series of senseless, sort of upsetting social screw-ups but retrospectively understood as an altogether ordinary and predictable initiation into grown-up values. You go through it feeling really alienated and trying to shake off and forget every stupid thing that happens but once you gain enough worldly perspective to see that your alienation made you not alone but totally normal then you start to see high school as cosmically significant. You celebrate and fetishize the specialness of details that, at the time, were not important at all.

This progression would seem to make us more smart than dumb. Sane forty-somethings do not go around saying, “Remember that cross-town/cross-valley rival high school, those guys - its faculty, students, and mascot - f*ck them. They represent everything that was evil and wrong in the world.” Just the opposite. In hindsight the fervor and enmity that fed that rivalry, along with all the other rivalries (glee clubbers vs. cheerleaders, goth vs. punk, Emilio Estevez vs. Judd Nelson), seem vaguely amusing.

You’d think that this simple but foundational precept of relativism would be extrapolated to other conflicts in life but it almost never is, probably because, logically, there’s no obvious stopping point. You beat up your brother but the neighborhood kid better not beat him up but the kid from a different neighborhood better not mess with your neighbor and so on it goes, battling a team from another city to hating Arab-Americans to world wars and then alien wars and then, eventually, fighting shoulder to shoulder with our aliens against a**hole aliens from a second cosmos. People piss us off into infinite regress.

And this is why teenagers aren't entirely crazy. It's true that a high school rivalry - along with many other acts of cultural dissonance - is random and absurd but it’s only true after the fact. Hell is hilarious once it's over. Transcendent meaning in present tense reality, on the other hand, is always constructed out of arbitrary conflicts and polarization, since it has to be constructed out of something.

When reminiscing about high school, for example, people love to claim “I was such a nerd” (as if no one now could possibly imagine that being true) but such statements are wildly misleading. Retrospectively being called a nerd means you were smart but being called a nerd during high school meant something different. It meant you weren’t cool. It meant choosing the wrong side in a seminal conflict: teachers vs. the rebel youth.

Similarly, everyone sort of believes that romance is founded on two people liking the same unique things, such as frisbee, Business Week, or Catholocism. But that’s just a trick of memory. It’s not, if you think about it what really connects you with someone at the time of the connection. What sparks romance is not discovering a particular but shared affinity for something unusual - like you both adore Death Cab for Cutie - it’s when you share a very particular hatred - like you both can't stand Death Cab for Cutie. Or you hate bananas or southern France or Republicans or find fat people disgusting. That’s love. Two people against the universe.

Rivalries by this measure have to happen. Northern California has to despise Southern California and vice versa, not so the Giants can win the pennant but so love has a chance. The conflict could theoretically be over almost anything - Bonds vs. Manny, weed vs. coke, hiking vs. surfing, youtube vs. Paramount) - people will adapt to the governing construct. They will build art and nuance out of the contrivance they've chosen to care about. They will find a way to come together.

But here's the problem: Northern California has chosen to take a stand against a fundamental aspect of human attraction: physical beauty. We supposedly hate tans and big boobs and modelesque bone structure. We hate people who aspire to and care about such conditions. This is like taking the position of mass suicide over mass survival. Or puppies rather than babies. It's either self-destructive or a total lie and in this case both.

Every person in San Francisco would LOVE to date a model even if they'd never admit it. And every person male or female would rather be casually mistaken for Salma Hayek than Steven Hawking. Every single LA-hating person. No one wants to be loved for their mind. The primordial need of the human soul is utter devotion from someone who is totally superficial.

Basing a community-wide propositional attitude on bullsh*t falsehood has this strange result: everyone in San Francisco is simultaneously offended by beauty and offended no one finds them beautiful. Even though the disdain of beauty makes sense internally (since it makes you feel superior) it's counter-productive externally (since it's an implicit insult to the company you keep). "I ain't here because of your looks," we're saying, "Wanna make out?" Every time someone picks up on you it's a slap in the face. It's like being selected to play the part of the homely fat girl in a Lifetime movie. "You're perfect!" the casting agent delights.

And yet: the open and notorious defense of a self-defeating delusion is, curiously, sort of brave. We are saboteurs standing fast on a sinking ship. There may be no beauty in San Francisco and there may be no girls and to say to the world, “That's the way we like it” with a straight face, that's insanity and will surely be our risible ruin, but all of this, in some small way, is also spectacular. It makes us laughable loners but if Breakfast Club, Rushmore and Napolean Dynamite have taught us anything, it's that there's nothing profound about being popular. Greatness is achieved only in the pathos of an asymmetrical face and extraordinary social failure. And maybe this in the end redeems us. Maybe we're wrong but that's why we're right.

Friday, October 30, 2009

#28 The Cultural Creep of Silicon Valley

Some revolutionary technologies, like the printing press, the bicycle, and the George Foreman grill, do not carry murderous undertones. We assume there may be collateral costs - scriveners go on the dole, a kid scrapes his knee, Michael Scott burns his toe cooking bacon - but none involve rivers of blood or an inanimate object with a homicidal agenda.

Our hunches here are pure intuition but they're also almost always correct since weirdly, some technologies, like some humans, aren't corruptible for purposes of evil, while others, like the Ford Pinto, lawn darts and Richard Nixon, are just waiting to turn on us.

For a long time we've been preoccupied with being attacked by toasters, robots, and television sets but Silicon Valley tech boom has provided a sleeker and more probable set of menaces. The advent and widespread use of the Internet, virtual realities and mobile devices has raised all manner of horrors the media won't shut up about: cyber stalking, identity theft, texting at the wheel, Nigerian princes, etc.)

The fact of our obsessive fear probably reflects the legitimacy of the threats but it's also why we don't really have to worry. Things that have obvious intrinsic value and obvious intrinsic evil, like the Patriot Act, Megan Fox or the Second Amendment, will never ultimately undo us because the drama between the good and the bad is too thrilling for society not to vigilantly monitor and control the dynamic.

What gets us in the end is the nonobvious extrinsic evils. No one really gets eaten by a shark or shot or mutilated by an Internet predator; we get killed by eating too many Sourdough Jacks.

The extrinsic evils of Internet-related technologies - increasing physical separation, shallow communication, shortened attention spans - are, for the most part to most people, psychological nonfactors even though ultimately these are the things that 1) by glacial creep and snowball effect (e.g., twitter shortens attention spans which spawns new technologies to service the ever enlarging market of people with short attention spans) totally reconstruct social behavior and 2) probably alienate us and make us feel unhappy. That is the point of exposure: where the societal superstructure is changing without people noticing. The possibility of a serial killer trolling chat rooms freaks us out but the guy using technology to f*ck you over just a little bit in a novel way - he's the cultural creep.

According to a study at the university of Texas, for example, there is a false degree of intimacy assumed by women who look for love on the Internet. The scientists found that the high frequency and intensity of email communication convinces women to alter their sexual boundaries.

Admittedly this is not a phenomenon isolated to San Francisco (according to most recent estimates, 30% of Americans have used online dating services) but 1) that doesn't mean it's not relevant to WTANGISF and 2) anecdotal evidence suggests that normal people doing things like, craiglist hook-ups or Facebook romance is disproportionately high in the Bay Area, probably because this is where the technology behind it all was invented.

One of the great illusions of the Internet is the proposition that we can understand people more effectively through the fake world of Facebook or than at a bar or a club, a belief which is totally wrong but easy to embrace since an inorganic simulacrum of reality 1) is less emotionally stressful 2) allows more separate occasions of contact (which in real life means something but in virtual reality meaning almost nothing) and 3) is incomplete enough to conceptualize as being better than it actually is.

This is how the cultural creep makes his move and why girls feel falsely intimate with him. He can text an ostensibly personal message to fifteen girls at once, go from married to single by a click of a radio button, and pick up girls at a bar and on at the same time. The limiting factor for the size of a lothario's harem is almost never charm, it's time. It takes time to talk on the phone and actually be in a certain place at a certain time and to create different identities for different women. Modern technology is eroding such transaction costs.

Understand though that the already desperate position of 95% of SF guys is exacerbated by this. A special irony of online dating is that it far more superficial, salacious and sausage-festy than the standard bar environment., for example, reported a gender ratio of 60-40% in 2005 and if Match's subsequent silence on the issue and anecdotal evidence is any indication, the ratio now is much much worse. In addition, places like are supposed to connect people based on individuality rather than random physical attraction: their hobbies, cultural tastes, etc. along with a nod or two towards a political persuasion or world view, all these being defining personal attributes and, at the same time, everybody who dates online finds out, qualities no one cares about at all.

A worse and higher level problem is that the population of the online dating pool is almost unlimited, which seems like a good idea but is really
an all-time backfire for men. Chuck Klosterman made the insightful comment that pursuing women already in relationships is strategic because in order to win a single woman's affection you have to be more desirable than every other single guy around "but if you meet a woman who is dating some dude named Mitch ... you merely have to be more desirable than Mitch."

Klosterman here was simply pointing out a loophole in the evolutionary law that women are drawn to the alpha male, the loophole being that alpha maleness is a completely relative concept. Online dating is the logical opposite of Klosterman's tiny loophole. When pursuing a girl at a normal social venue, a bar for example, you have to be the most desirable guy who showed up at that bar at that hour, which, concededly, makes for inauspicious odds, but a site such as is infinitely more competitive, since it lacks any real temporal or geographical parameters. You have to be the most desirable guy on the Internet.

That the cultural creep of Silicon Valley is bad for SF guys, however, doesn't necessarily mean it's bad in the absolute. Robots are evil only if you're not a robot. The question of the matter is less about morality than the nature of choice: are women's romantic preferences founded on out-of-date biological compulsions (that now make women see all men as creeps or losers) or on a deep-seated and unwavering instinct for finding fulfillment, specifically in the make-believe arms of an avatar who says he's not married? The answer, if you live in San Francisco, is yes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

#27 The Language of Silicon Valley

Lily Tomlin said language exists to satisfy man’s deep need complain, and perhaps this blog is both the evidence and the aspiration. Of course the joke is funny only because it’s so far from being true. Language and this blog really exist, just like law, religion, economics, and ultimate fighting championships, to sort out who gets to hook up and hug it out with whom, a hypothetical to which the answer is always: Jeremy Piven.

This is precisely why public speaking is universally man’s greatest fear. Fail at language in public, with everyone around to see, and it's sexual suicide, not just with respect to the girl who rejected your shamefully awkward Starbucks come-on but every girl who witnessed it and the hundreds probably thousands of girls who are instantly texted and twittered. You're f*cked. You just lost all your mojo and got on the schneid, at least for a while, at least until, say, you taunt someone smaller than you in public.

For women, of course, language skills are a little less paramount as pressures of sexual selection, since, if they’re clever about it, they can rely on diversionary tactics - rules of decorum, bitchiness, mini-skirts, etc. But if you’re a guy the issue sooner or later will get pressed directly. A teacher will call on you, the star football season will end, the waitress will finish pouring the other coffee. Wear all the sleeveless Ts you want, but eventually you’re going to need to say something.

Single guys in weaker moments deny this. When the realities of
being short or fat seem particularly salient, like the Sunday morning after twelve Heinekens, all male tragedies get sourced to aesthetic and genetic shortcomings. They regress to the preliterate period of middle school and early high school where misshapen body parts and dim dating prospects defined most everyone, and the former facts were the strongly correlated cause of the latter. When you're 15 construing the world through your insecurities makes sense, because your peers really and sincerely do hate you, on the level of your soul, due to your weak chin or spindly legs or whatever, but by the time you're an adult, after girls start meeting people who know about Woody Allen films, attributing romantic failure to physical imperfection is less logical. It's kind of like thinking the toast got burned because the milk’s expired.

The inexorable fact is some guys have language gifts and some have biceps and out of cosmic fairness or as some sick metaphysical joke those groups seldom overlap. This is why guys team-up, both in hair-brained Roxanne-style schemes and on really advanced levels, as demonstrated by the Hollywood complex, where nebbish Harvard grads feed lines to thickheaded but handsome louts. To the extent such stratagems work it’s rarely with equal benefit. Some virigin in Culver City spends four months writing the first draft of Fool’s Gold and as a result, Matthew McCounghney blasts seven sorority girls on spring break in Cabo.

But in San Francisco something even more complex has happened. Guys have forsaken the language common to society for a language common to guys who love building computers. This language is like English in a way, except for the part about humans being the communicating interface and sensing the emotions of others.

Other guys who also specialized in this language have been recruited to relocate to the Bay Area and those guys have recruited others and so by now every poindexter and egghead loner who survives twelve to sixteen years of public school beat-downs gets a job in Santa Clara and a loft in SOMA. They wander about the Bay Area in a loose but huge confederation of pidgin-tongued social misfits.

Now here's the problem: society hasn't figured out what to do with these guys. Geeks are geeks and women hate them but the economy loves them. Author Bryna Siegel says "In another historical time, these men would have become [presumably virginal] monks...suddenly they're making $150,000 a year with stock options." That's the oxymoron. Being an expert at a coding language is lucrative but it's also like being male gymnast, perhaps the only sport in the world that’s impressive but doesn’t impress women. Women construe it as minor form of autism.

This problem spills-over into another: the economic value of the geeks is misleading to regular SF guys, who are long accustomed to thinking that the secret to professional and, by proxy, sexual success, as a politician, salesman, lawyer, reporter, rapper, or Michael J. Fox as a Kansas boy in Manhattan, is out-talking the people around you. With all the shifty-eyed geeks tooling around in Porsches the paradigm has shifted, sufficiently so that regular SF guys increasingly doubt the pay-off of charm and wit, which is grade A self-sabotage. It's like pursuing gridiron glory by emulating Plaxico Burress' strip club moves.

Language, according to academic Steven Pinker, is supposed to be common to all societies, and any given culture is approximately as skilled at it as any other. Without language, the thinking goes, no girls get talked into or out of anything, and without that, you have no naughtiness, no new generation and no surviving culture, just some harrowing Ray Bradbury single-gender dystopia, popularly known, of course, as the city of San Francisco, where the newest model iPhone is always ringing, but no girls are around to hear.