A friend of mine in Europe has just been issued an O-1 visa, more informally known as the “Foreigner with Exceptional Skills” visa. The visa is designed to encourage immigrants with outstanding skills in science, business, or entertainment to come to the United States. With the visa, my friend joins the ranks of Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners who live and work in America.
He comes to the USA at a time when San Francisco, the much-vaunted startup capital of the USA, is still partly a ghost town. Trendy bars and restaurants with a vaccination certificate required a comeback to get started. However, the city center was deserted at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. No wonder: Several well-known names with offices in San Francisco – including Twitter, Spotify and Square – have announced the move to a “remote first” organization. An sf.citi survey found that over 60 percent of employers plan to downsize their office if they haven’t already.
Why is my boyfriend moving? In the case of non-essential travel, just having a nice memory in the past, when someone was physically based, is much less important than it used to be. When our friends, co-workers, and appointments are reduced to windows in a Brady Bunch-style zoomed view, how do we know where people live? More importantly, does it matter?
When someone asks me where I live, I say – mostly seriously – that I live on the Internet. Saying that I live in the Bay Area is one of those things that is technically true but feels incomplete. The grocery store and bookstore are near the block, but with the tech companies gone, San Francisco could be any other midsize American city.
I can work anywhere with a good internet signal and a quiet place to talk. I also earn a master’s part-time through a short-term graduate program, mostly on Zoom. Like more than half of couples these days, I met my girlfriend through a dating app. Our first date, which happened during the pandemic, was a video call followed by a socially distant dinner. If we don’t feel like cooking, we can use another app to order food that will be delivered to our home. I’m infinitely grateful that the pandemic didn’t happen 20 years ago, before families with young children had access to Netflix and Wikipedia, and before you could have virtually every book in existence delivered to your door.
For better or for worse, my life during the pandemic reminded me of this Ready player one, the science fiction film that introduces a world where virtual reality has become more interesting, social and attractive than real life, not to mention safety.
I have a lot of friends who fought during the pandemic. Even those who keep their jobs and don’t get sick have found that isolation has an impact on their mental health. As much as I miss the office, I can work, study and socialize online.
I’ve missed friends and done my share of detached outdoor picnics, but I still feel connected to the things I enjoy in life: my family and friends, my job and my classes.
It remains to be seen what status quo we will have when Covid resigns or becomes a minor seasonal nuisance. In many ways, we live a natural A / B test of whether San Francisco will remain ground zero for new startups.
Some tech companies, such as Apple and Facebook are steadfast in their plan to return to the offices as soon as it’s safe. miscellaneouss, including much of the tech community who moved to Miami during the pandemic, are unwavering in their belief that there is a certain je ne sais quoi to working in person.
Much of the gap has to do with previous experience: if a founder has a strong network and a few important early attitudes, there are fewer disadvantages to not being based in the mecca of tech. However, if you’re a new founder or an aspiring developer with no many connections, Zoom coffee appointments will only get you so far.
I’m lucky enough to have the same job I had before the pandemic started at a startup that trains software engineers remotely: we had an office in San Francisco, but our students were spread all over the country. We have been secluded since March 2020 and have no plans to return to an office. My travel expenses have been replaced with one-time expenses for a larger monitor and computer chair that won’t faint a chiropractor.
Glad to see my friend when he arrives in the US. There are some aspects of social life that cannot be recreated in a Zoom Happy Hour. If nothing else, he’ll throw the nine-hour time difference between San Francisco and Paris overboard. But if we look back at the pandemic five or ten years from now, I suspect we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t more disruptive. Journalists could still bring us the news, we could still order takeaway food from our local spots, and the video chat kept us connected with loved ones far away. Sheltering-in-place taught us a lot about the most important things, but also about how much more we can do.