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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

bay area parties by CJ Q. '23

well, two of them

in the last two weeks, i’ve been invited to two parties in the bay area. the first one was an invitation from a co-intern, who sent it in a group text with all the other company interns in the bay. it was a link to a website called partiful: think facebook events for parties. the title of the event was “sf party” and the description of the event said it was for “smart, hard-working, ambitious people in tech.”

now, my experience with parties were mostly parties in east campus and small gatherings with friends. i had a particular idea of what parties could look like, and the one i attended was, somehow, yet another new experience. on the surface, it seemed similar: vague party music (but no chart songs), alcohol, pizza, and people standing around talking to each other. no dance floor, sure. more variance in age, with what i’m pretty sure were prefrosh and people several years in college. and instead of being held in a dormitory, it was held at an office. for a startup, of course, cofounded by one of the hosts.

but these were only surface differences; the real difference was what people talked about. the conversations i had in this “sf party” began with names and a handshake. where are you from? where do you go to school? and the dreaded what are you doing in sf? or if it’s that kind of person, it’s what are you building?

building? did you mean to ask about my woodworking skills? i’m good at building lego worms, does that count? what about this blog post i’m writing, can i be considered building it? no, of course not. they’re asking me about the supposed startup i’m a cofounder of, because apparently everyone has to be a founder in this party. when i mentioned that i was an employee, maybe it was just me, but i felt like i’d been devalued.

when two founders talked to each other about their startup, i wasn’t sure if they were talking to each other or past each other. i wasn’t sure whether that conviction people had about their work was rooted in a genuine belief that they’re working on someting that’ll change the world, or whether it was a farce. i wasn’t sure if people were enjoying this.

i kid you not, the stereotypes were real, down to the mentions of peter thiel. wouldn’t be surprised if people embraced the stereotypes. someone mentioned the party was celebrating someone’s million-dollar raise. this surprised me until i realized that “raise” didn’t refer to their salary, but how much funding they got for their startup in series whatever. if it were any earlier in the day people would probably be handing me their business card. instead, they asked me to type my number on their iphones.

last sunday i went to another party, this one was advertised as an “mit bay area meetup”. it was a pool party near san mateo. and the beats were similar: music, drinks, food, talking. it was at a huge mansion in the late afternoon, instead of a startup office after hours. and when i say huge, i mean huge. two kitchens, a pool, like five living rooms, a basement, a cellar, gilded toilets and dozens of locked rooms. i’d guess around a hundred people came and went through the party, but the house was so big there easily could’ve been six simultaneous parties without anyone bumping into each other.

one of the things i talked about with people was whether they’d want to live in this house, and i got a lot of nos. a house like this felt much too big, even if it was a group living space. i felt the same, really. a friend talked about sf’s “deluded sense of glamor”. that these people might’ve, on paper, lived together to do work and inspire each other and stay in touch. but now it’s people with too much vc money and throwing parties for the sake of throwing parties. they compared it to the rise of tiktok’s content houses.

even if the house was huge, there was only so much room to explore and talk about before the conversation had to turn to other topics. and context made conversations smoother, in the way that you could mention dormitories and class numbers and people would understand. the difference in the kinds of conversations was deeper than that, though. i heard people complain about housing prices and public transport and relationships and other people. i heard people talk about the weather and fun things they’ve planned for this summer and good places to eat out.

not that i didn’t hear people talk about work, not that i didn’t talk to people about work. everyone was a software engineer, unsurprisingly. and i asked people what they did, what their company did. i listened to the corporate rumor mill, and i enjoyed it.

i also heard about what people were learning, or what people felt about their work. and the range of emotions people felt about their work was varied. some liked it, some didn’t. some felt good about what their work was doing, others felt disconnected.

i suppose if you were a cofounder of a startup, then you have to be psyched about what you’re doing. but it was nice to talk to people who weren’t, if that makes sense?

and i don’t want to decry the partygoers from the first party as clout-chasing techbros. many of the people i talked to were young, and had the time lined up for them to mature. and i’m certain that there were people there who were thoughtful about their work, and i’m sure that the sample i saw in both parties were biased in ridiculous ways. the fact was, though, i enjoyed the second party more than the first one, and i feel that’d be the case even without the mit context.

maybe i’m getting old. or maybe people are catching ambition while they’re too young?