I'm writing this from Berkeley. I'm here to sell my house and cut my last ties to the Golden State, and this time it feels like it's for good. I say "feels like," because I did this once before, in 2003. Sold my house in Woodside, and drove cross-country to Cambridge. After that, I tried living in Florida, Seattle and got started looking at apartments in NY before giving up. I found myself in Berkeley and tired of being unrooted. So I rented an apartment, and one thing led to another -- I was house-shopping and found a place I loved.
It was 2006, the peak of the real estate market. It's hard to imagine now, but back then real estate was thought to be a foolproof investment. I was making tons of money in the stock market. I had a feeling that I would just increase my earnings by owning prime Calif real estate. And it is a lovely old designer home in a fantastic spot.
Soon after buying the house, everything went to hell. I'm sure you know the story. Mortgage crisis, banking crisis, world financial meltdown. The house, while still lovely, had spoiled as an investment. But don't cry for me, net-net I'm way ahead because I got scared early and sat out the worst of the stock market "bath of blood." (I just watched Lord of War, that's its running joke.) And it was a very nice place to live.
Then last year my father got really sick, again, and this time he died.
That's a time when you get to look at everything about your life, you can't hide from yourself, like we so often do. When I looked inside, one of the things I found was a regret that I hadn't been closer to him in his last years. But there was a deeper regret. I found that I'm a New Yorker, and I was living in the wrong place for a New Yorker.
I had been traveling there a lot in 2009, so I decided to rent an apartment, and try living bi-coastal for a year. I got a visiting fellowship with my friend Jay Rosen at NYU, to give me an official reason to be there.
I've always, as an adult, lived in a place where I was a transplant, and other people were natives. In NY, I am a native. I actually live in the place where I come from. There are small cues. Like the smell of the ocean at sunrise, and how it reminds me of waking up in my grandmother's house in Rockaway. No two oceans smell alike, I guess. This one smells like home.
And from a creative and business standpoint, I am in exactly the right place at the right time. Sure there may be a lot of value in social networks, and California is where that's being pioneered. But for me, it's about publishing and media. I believe in leveling the playing field and opening the doors. I don't think of this as democratization, or citizen journalism -- I agree with Nick Denton that there are people who will use the new techniques much more powerfully than others. But it should allow more information to flow faster to the people who want it. And in doing so, create new economies. And of course in doing that, make new wealth.
In other words, people who think NY should aspire to be another Silicon Valley, are completely missing the opportunity. And people who leave NY to find fame and fortune in Silicon Valley may find it, but they won't find what I've been looking for. I gave it 30-plus years.