There’s no end to the smart shiny young people who pass through my kitchen at dinner time. I’m a kind of scratch and dent uncle to everyone in the neighborhood. I learn more from them about economics, demographics, technology, and realpolitik than a graduate level university program ever could. Over the years I’ve seen the trajectory of more than a few people twist and turn in unexpected ways.
Josh is a North Dakota Norwegian that I’ve known since he was in his early twenties. He’s lived, worked, and studied in Barcelona, London, and Honolulu and is the founder of Loconomics.com. He rode the Dot Com tech wave of the late 90s and has settled in to a comfortable groove taking advantage of all the latest trends and opportunities here in San Francisco.
He’s a schmoozer who operates from a co-working space and attends all the usual professional mixers. His start up has received various grants and a recent round of fresh funding, but like most such companies it isn’t yet generating a profit. Then again, neither is Uber or Lyft. For every Facebook there’s a Myspace. There’s just no way to tell how things will shake out over time.
Josh has an enviable rent controlled two bedroom apartment in a fashionable neighborhood and is on excellent terms with his landlord. But rent in San Francisco isn’t cheap even with a good deal like his.
One of the ways he makes ends meet is by taking full advantage of the “sharing economy” by renting out the spare bedroom on Airbnb.
He’s also tapped in to the communal vehicle trend and rents out his car on Getaround. This is in addition to a dozen other websites he uses to facilitate every aspect of his life from hiring temporary help to organizing his romantic endeavors. There’s an app for that…
But I’ve notice a subtle shift in his attitude lately. He’s recently become aware of the downside of his situation. These kinds of arrangements have worked beautifully for the last decade, but what started as a little extra money on the side has become a dependency. The political push back against home sharing sites has led to legal limits on how often short term accommodations can be rented so he’s needed to cherry pick high demand dates like conferences and festivals when space rents at a premium. He’s now staying with friends on select nights and volunteering for cat sitting gigs in order to rent out his entire apartment. Keeping up with car payments and insurance now requires him to give priority to other people’s needs rather than his own. The dark side of efficiency and leverage is the risk that if anything disrupts the carefully orchestrated flow he’s in trouble.
Josh is approaching forty. What seemed like freedom at twenty five or thirty five isn’t looking so good when he peers out at forty five or fifty five. The tech economy is like the 1970s pulp science fiction classic Logan’s Run. At a certain age people just… disappear. His daily quality of life is very high at the moment, but it’s entirely ephemeral. “Dematerialized” is the current catchphrase. Unfortunately, there’s no substance left over at the end of each month. Josh is smart, charming, and resourceful. He understands the nature of his situation and he’s already mobilizing to take corrective action. I’m watching carefully to see how he navigates the future because Josh has always been ahead of the curve. One way or another he’ll get to the future before most people.