Just read an article about how in San Francisco nobody says hi in the street. Interesting.
I’m a native New Yorker, so I am very much part of the culture where you don’t greet strangers for no reason in passing on the street. Now I live in Los Angeles where you rarely pass people on the street, so it doesn’t come up. But I grew up in an apartment building where you certainly did say hello and converse briefly with neighbors, and I do greet my neighbors where I live now, in a neighborhood which seems very suburban to me (though my kids bridle at that description; I tell them, if it’s single family homes with lawns in front, it’s a suburb! Reasonable people can disagree).
I have spent time in, and love, San Francisco. Maybe real estate will drop and rents will become more affordable and interesting people for whom making money is not driving impulse of their life will move in again. Also New York, which is a shell of its former self, thanks to all the rich people and their unholy spawn.
What made San Francisco and New York so interesting in the 60s and 70s were the people who were in the counterculture. Not much money, but lots of creative vision. They could afford the rents, and they wanted to make music, do theater, paint, write, and create something. They were so exciting and fun to be around that they boosted the value of their towns until they were priced out and along with them, the small businesses that also could only exist because of reasonable rents. I remember when the last wrought iron company in SoHo closed down because their building was so valuable they couldn’t afford to stay in business. That must have been an interesting family discussion.
Part of this is, of course, boring things like interest rates. Without a reasonable return on T-notes, everything else in the world became an object of speculation. Computers accelerated this trend, so that hedge funds can invest in, say, 100,000 rental units. Used to be the overhead of managing those would make mass speculation a losing proposition. But now with software tools, it’s a pretty good investment.
And there’s no counterculture now. Thanks to tech, we are atomised and suffer anomie. But that trend predates tech — small towns have seen neighbor turn against neighbor in favor of big box stores and megachurches before anyone had a smartphone. My neighbor Larry’s hardware store? I can get a Chinese hammer for half the price at the Walmart! No wonder the small-town right wing is so emotionally messed up, heavily armed and on the constant verge of tears with anger and resentment. They stopped buying their local paper (again, turning against their neighbor to save a nickel*) and instead are feeding off hypercharged vicious rumors thanks to social media. The only newspapers left are national chains. Where before, some bright kid could get a job in local media, bringing much needed variety into the ranks of journalism and media, now those local jobs are just the fading memory of a dream, and only big city papers and chains remain, and they hire who they’re used to hire.
The culture of individuality has crushed the skull of the small town, leaving what amounts to an anthill after the passage of a mean child kicks it over. Eating each other and attacking anything in sight.
I don’t know where this goes, and maybe it doesn’t matter whether I know or not. Certainly COVID is increasing the sense of isolation. We are, after all, beasts evolved to live in extended clans of about 100, and if we’re forced to live only in groups of five, the results can’t be good.
* You could argue that this behavior is driven by downward pressure on wages. Also, that reluctance to fight that downward pressure is due to racial solidarity with bosses in the face of perceived threats by other ethnic racial groups. Pathetic forelock-tugging, I call it. But yes, I’m aware of these arguments. I suspect there’s a lot to them.