I’m in the city today, if only for a brief moment.
There was a time where I could never have imagined leaving.
After all, this city helped make me the man I am today.
But these days, I can’t wait to GTFO whenever I am here for one reason or another.
I feel dirty and claustrophobic and anxious.
And for whatever reason, I am no longer so enamored by the allure of possibility, the low-grade inflammation of constant change, the people watching, the racing thoughts.
Still, maybe I can say these things because I’m still so close, here so often.
Maybe in truth, I’ve never left.
(Here’s a funny New Yorker piece on what it’s like living in the greatest city in the world.)
Last night, I went to a dinner at my friend Lorenzo’s place in Bushwick, at least I think it was in Bushwick. On Google Maps, it said Ridgewood. But when I got there, the delis and stores and store names said otherwise.
Whatever the case, it was far, about a 45 minute Uber drive from LES. (Look, it was pricey, and I feel guilty about it, but don’t judge me, thanks.)
Ten years ago, when I first got to the city, I would have never imagined going this far out to chill with friends in a neighborhood that shared the vibes and aesthetic of places that I’m used to.
The city just keeps creeping, it keeps sprawling.
Because this is where kids come to pay their dues and learn about life.
But New York City is full so it has to spread out further and further, this particular flavor of it.
In a way, New York City sort of represents the past, the old world.
Because New York City sort of represents centralization.
But the future is decentralized.
One of our friends, Dahahm, who was also at dinner, is visiting from Berlin.
Germany is an interesting case study. There are no like, big, big cities in Germany. Instead, there are lots and lots of medium sized cities. Over the centuries, Germany developed into a very decentralized kind of place.
America, on the other hand, is a very young country.
So it makes you wonder if we’ll eventually get to that place, too.
We are sort of already seeing this process play out with the development of places like Boulder, like Portland, like Austin.
The world no longer revolves around places like New York, like Chicago, like San Francisco, like LA, like DC—even if it sometimes feels like it when you’re here.
There was a time when, to experience a certain kind of culture, you could only get it if you went to those kinds of places, places like New York. But the Internet is decentralized. The Internet decentralized culture.
You should still check out New York. You just don’t have to stay there to keep getting that thing.
All of which, BTW, is fundamental to the American spirit.
This isn’t America. This is the United States of America.
We wrote decentralization into the constitution.
It’s who we are.
In a way, this process started recently because it was only recently that we started coming back to our cities. But now after a generation of kids have moved to the cities, the cities are sort of full.
But I think what comes next is exciting and what comes next will start to help solve all of these deep, deep problems that we sort of are dealing with right now, like polarization, like inequality.
People are less dynamic these days. They don’t start as many businesses as they used to. They don’t move around as much as they used to.
And part of it is because everyone moved to the cities.
There was a time when, if you had dreams and you dreamed big, you knew where to go.
And sure, maybe you go and it doesn’t quite work out, but you are, at the very least, satisfied. You are content. At least you had the opportunity to give it a shot. Isn’t that what life’s all about? To believe in something and to go for it? The outcome is unimportant. The choices are what matter. That’s what makes us feel fulfilled, to fall asleep easier at night—knowing that we did the right thing, knowing that we tried, knowing that we did the most that we could.
But today, a lot of people don’t get to have that. They don’t get it because the cities are full.
Today, you can’t just go to New York anymore, at least not for any meaningful amount of time.
You would need a pretty well-paying job or be pretty well off.
Today, only a certain kind of person gets to do that thing, go to places where dreams are made.
Simply having a dream is no longer enough.
And it’s because the cities are full.
This is a source of so much of the angst, the issues, both economic and social, that the country is dealing with.
The rent is too damn high.
This isn’t about inequality. Inequality in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And people care less about money than you think once you get past a certain point. People care more about pride. People want to know that they gave it a good go, when it comes to this thing we called life.
This is about opportunity and who gets it.
So this is about fairness.
That’s what makes us work hard, that’s what makes us chill. You need to believe that there is a chance that it will all work out. In order to willfully suffer, we need to believe.
If we feel like the situation is unfair, if we feel like we’re excluded, it’s easy to stop trying.
It’s easy to stop dreaming.
What’s the point?
And what’s the point of life without dreams?
The good thing is that these situations are self-correcting.
Because if the cities are full, then we can move on.
If they were just almost full, we’d still be going there.
But we’re pretty much maxed out right now.
So now, we’re moving on. We’re ready. It’s happening.
Manhattan and Brooklyn have this sort of classic dynamic.
One is pop. One is indie rock.
One is Hollywood. One is Sundance.
One is corporate. One is grassroots.
And in a way, this is sort of the polarization that is dividing the country.
The thing is, New York City has sort of lost this dynamic.
Because New York City is full.
Today, Brooklyn, at heart, is really just an extension of Manhattan, at least in the interests of this dynamic. In the context of this dynamic, Brooklyn no longer exists.
Today, indie rock is just a flavor of pop that the Hollywood corporations sell us. Indie rock no longer exists. (We do have hip hop, but that’s a whole nother story.)
But indie rock has to exist, so it will.
And it will exist in the suburbs.
Because now that the cities are full, now that they are mature and saturated, they also become less dynamic, less interesting, less unexpected.
Sure, if you want to be part of the machine, that is the place to go. But if you want to do your own thing, if you want to build something grand, if you want to create your own vision on your own terms, then you should go to the suburbs.
Because we’re done setting up the cities. The cities are full. The formula is nailed down. And it will keep creeping and sprawling, but this is pretty much it. The road ahead is predictable. It’s well traveled.
Which doesn’t sound as fun.
But the suburbs—the suburbs are a blank canvas, just sitting there, waiting for someone to just go ahead and do something really great, something grand, something that will inspire and lift us, something that gives us hope, something that makes us fall in love again, and most importantly, something that is all your own and nobody else’s.
Just like we had unfinished business with the cities after we left, we now have unfinished business in the suburbs.
Sure, we set up the basics. Like we have houses and schools and stores and stuff. We have the bare necessities down pat. But it’s all still pretty basic. What it needs is that undefined thing. That little bit of extra. That little bit of special. That little bit of romance. What it really needs is you. Because that is what you bring to the table.
The city certainly doesn’t need you. There’s already too many of you in the city.
Because the cities are full.
Trust me, the people who change the world are not going to be the ones who move to San Francisco to work for Facebook.
“Change the world.”
That’s just the slogan they sell you. They sell it to you because you need it. You need it because you are a sheep and believing this makes you feel better about that fact. But deep down, you know the truth.
Everyone knows the truth.
Look, there was a time when that was the frontier.
But today, Facebook is just another big, boring company. And today, the cities are full.
Because here’s the thing, today, the people who change the world are going to be the ones who go to the suburbs and build something real.
That’s the new frontier. That is where all the important work needs to be done.
That is where you can stick a flag in the ground and claim it as your own.
That is where the rules don’t apply.
That is where you can go and make a name for yourself.
Because whatever you do there, it will be yours.
And people will remember you because of all the good work you did.
You won’t just be making some app, you’ll be doing real things.
An online community is great and all, but a real community is better. And that’s what you want. You want a real community. And you can have it. You can go and build it. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding. Building an app is a shortcut. It’s a copout. You would much rather build something real. Because you understand that this the kind of real work that changes the world.
The world doesn’t need another app. And the cities are full.
That party is over. It was last call. But there is always another party, just getting started. It’s still pretty low key right now. Not a lot of people have heard about it. But you are in the know. And it’s just starting to get good. The next party is just getting started and this is your invitation.
If on Facebook, you pretend like you care about what is happening in this country today—all the anguish, the hate, the despair—then you should know that the reason for this is that the cities are full.
The cities are full and the suburbs are a blank canvas, just waiting.
So if you want to change the world, go the suburbs.
(And hey, the quality of life is pretty good, too.)
(Also, here’s a kewl story about startups working on interesting hardware things in the sorts of places we’re talking about here.)