Gen-Z: S.F. is More than What You See on TikTok

Sure, we use Slack to communicate with our landlords. But we’re more than that — I promise.

Even if you aren’t on TikTok, you’re probably seen the viral video. A young brunette sits in Alamo Square with a polka dotted mask pulled below her chin, the collars of a three-quarter zip Patagonia fleece and a black down coat scrunching up around her neck. “Influencer economy. Creator economy. Passion economy,” she says, wide-eyed and nodding. “Silicon Valley’s not going anywhere.” 

San Francisco-based comedian Alexis Gay’s TikTok earned tens of thousands of views last year for a reason. The video, captioned “every single park hang in San Francisco,” is a blizzard of MBA-speak and tech industry psychobabel familiar to anyone living in the Bay Area, whether they work in tech or not.

The clip isn’t a problem in and of itself. It’s funny, spot-on, and should serve as a cold glass of water in the face of anyone with even a modicum of self awareness working in the “information economy.” After all, how many of us heard Alexis say, “Sorry, I just have to send this one Slack,” and sighed in solidarity? 

The problem is, if you scroll hashtags like #SanFrancisco, #SF, and #SanFran on TikTok, you’ll find a lot of people that seem uncannily similar to the character Gay plays in the video — except for them, it’s no joke. On San Francisco TikTok, users find relatable comedy videos about working from home, overly-produced compilations of the best places to grab coffee, and Bitcoin bros coaching their audience on how to “manifest” millions. For people who only know San Francisco by what’s posted on the micro-vlogging app, we must look like a monolith of athleisure-clad, nootropic-hoovering workaholics — and considering the way Gen Z’s favorite app seems to drive the Zoomer zeitgeist, I worry that’s who the majority of younger Americans think we are. 

As with its most successful social media predecessors, TikTok tends to group users into silos using a notoriously addictive algorithm that learns to show you content you and other people you’re connected with “like.” There’s “Skater TikTok” and “ATLA TikTok.” In the first community, you’ll find hours of footage of the world’s best skaters ollieing across America. In the second, you’ll find fun dance routines, decadent Southern recipes, and slang tutorials. 

While Atlanta’s TikTok community is one of the most active, regional groups on the platform, most major cities in the United States now boast their own group of region-specific creators. Creators who dominate #LosAngeles, for example, post everything from touristy sight-seeing guides to slow-mo videos of street vendors overloading elotes. New York TikTok boasts both a popular crew of fashion influencers alongside Gen Z political organizers. 

This regionally-focused content is more than just fodder for the locals: it also serves as an accidental advertisement for the city it represents. Many users are using the platform to decide where to travel next, preferring TikTok’s more explanatory video content to the previously-preferred aesthetic stills of Instagram travel accounts. Real estate influencers on the platform are also using it to teach users how and where to buy a house

Though techies have become San Franciscans’ favorite punching bag, we all know they’re an important part of our community — just not the only part. If Chicago gets to show off with both streetwear style guides and raucous videos of nightlife, why can’t we have San Francisco TikTokers who are crabbers, or psychedelic musicians, or IPA aficionados alongside all the crypto evangelists telling us to invest in Doge? Why can’t we show the members of Gen Z — who make up 40 percent of users on TikTok — that we have something more to offer? 

Luckily, some creators are giving us a little more dimension online. Nick Cho, co-founder of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters became an overnight sensation as “Your Korean Dad,” posting comforting POV-style videos that make the audience feel like they’re on a family outing. Jocelyn Chin posts inspiring videos of her luxury, custom-designed picnics at parks throughout the city. Kirk Maxson posts daily videos of sandcastles he makes with a unique technique of “dripping” wet sand rather than molding the castles with his hands. 

However, these influencers are the exception, not the rule. The majority of the content representing San Francisco on TikTok revolves around hybrid work models, hustle culture, and the next big app.

What’s missing, besides salty fisherman, psych rockers, and beer nerds?

How about the Bay Area’s progressive organizers, who trace their lineage back to Oakland’s Black Panthers and Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement? Or the folks who have been brewing their own kombucha in the Marin headlands since long before the pandemic pushed so many of us to try our hand at home fermentation?

Speaking of Skater TikTok, it’s worth noting that Thrasher Magazine is based in San Francisco for a reason — the city has long been a skateboarding mecca. And speaking of magazines, the San Francisco-born Rolling Stone practically invented serious pop music criticism.

As for the tech industry, the shade and the skewering are well deserved. But for every TED Talk about “Making the World a Better Place,” there is a well-meaning startup that may actually make the world a better place. And while it’s true that Elon Musk is basically a blunt-smoking Bond villain, the success of Tesla undoubtedly played a role in getting General Motors to commit to an all electric fleet by 2035 and Ford to build an electric F-150.

Look… sure — maybe we did use Slack to message our landlord when the rent was late last month. Maybe we have been seen speed-walking the streets of the FiDi with an Airpod in each ear. Maybe the Allbirds and Patagonia puffy combo has outbeat the John Lennon sunglasses and flare-leg pants. 

But to Gen-Z TikTokers: we’re so much more than that. I promise. 

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