Homelessness, civil rights, assault, paying $10 more for a table at Quince: All equally outrageous

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on July 4, 2014

From The News Desk

"I became the most hated person in San Francisco, for a day," writes Brian Mayer, the founder of ReservationHop, a service which allows you to scalp reservations at swanky Bay Area restaurants.

The immediate response, of course, is that, no, he didn't become the most hated person in the city, even for a second. Ask the tenants of any of San Francisco's slum landlords, or the hundreds (thousands?) of homeless people on Market or Mission Streets or... well... anyone who, like me, doesn't read TechCrunch or Valleywag, who the most hated person in San Francisco is and there's very little chance they'll reply "the guy who makes it $12 more expensive to eat at Foreign Cinema."

It's unlikely Mayer was even the most hated tech person in San Francisco: Just say the name "Travis Kalanick" to any of the city's 8,500 cab drivers and see how that plays out.

That said, it's clear Mayer and his startup did attract a huge amount of hate this week, particularly after Reservation Hop was featured on Gawker's Valleywag tech gossip site. "If they try this in NYC, they'll wind up at the receiving end of a baseball bat," wrote one commenter. "Fuck these turds," concurred a second.

(In fact, as Mayer points out, two different companies -- Killer Rezzy and Zurvu -- are trying that in New York. A search on Gawker shows no mention of either site.)

On Mayer's blog, the comments continued:

Your understanding of ethics is seriously flawed. Just because someone is willing to pay for a service doesn’t justify it as being ethical. For example how many tens of thousands of non-whites consented to ride on busses [sic] knowing they would have to move to the back of the bus if a white passenger wanted their seat? Would you consider that ethical? They willingly consented to that transaction after all right?
Because scalping restaurant tables is a civil rights issue.

There's not doubt that Reservation Hop has a parasitic, and fundamentally dishonest, business model, and one that -- as a Brit who respects the queue above all other things -- offends me deeply. But let's not kid ourselves that it's anywhere close to the worst app to come out of San Francisco's "cult of disruption," even in the past month.

Unlike, say, Parkmodo, which takes public parking spaces and privatizes them, Reservation Hop is, at worst, an inconvenience for wealthy San Francisco residents who now have to compete against each other for tables, like some upper-middle-class (and even more fittingly named) version of the Hunger Games. No one is going to actually go hungry because of Reservation Hop, no one will get raped or murdered, or even cyberbullied (except for Mayer, of course -- but even he admits he kinda asked for it.)

Hating people is fun, and I've written before about how Gawker has realized that it's easier to get large numbers of people to hate a guy who is just a bit wealthier or just a bit more of a douche than them, rather than it is to rile folks up about the super, super rich. That's why every day Gawker goes after people like Brian Mayer or Dave Morin while not writing a single story about Steve Jobs and Eric Schmidt conspiring to steal wages from hundreds of thousands of tech workers.

I've also written before about Gawker's disingenuous, hypocritical role in fueling these mobs. Gawker is, of course, based in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying US tax; it's still facing a class action suit for not paying any of its interns; and, oh yeah, it was founded by a guy who got very rich from packaging up something which was previously freely available (news headlines) and selling them to the highest bidder through Moreover Technologies. Then again, given that Denton famously takes his meetings in Balthazar, it's easy to see how he might consider scalping of fancy restaurants to be -- as his writer's headline put it -- "everything wrong with San Francisco."

But, aside from rank hypocrisy, there's a bigger problem with stirring up these relatively low level outrages every day. If every dumb app is "everything wrong with San Francisco," warranting "the wrong end of a baseball bat," then pretty soon we're either all mad all the time, or we become immune to being outraged about anything.

If a restaurant booking app is totally outrageous and the founder should be physically assaulted, then what's the response when someone is raped because Uber doesn't do background checks? If that same restaurant app is "everything wrong with San Francisco" then how do we describe a lack of basic mental health care, leading to seriously mentally ill people being expected to fend for themselves on Market and Mission streets outside the offices of some of the world's wealthiest companies? Well I guess that's pretty outrageous too.

If we're seriously going to expand our definition of -- and outrage over -- the "haves and have nots" to include those who have or have not been able to spend $20 on some flatbread at Flour & Water then the entire income inequality and perils of "disruption" debate becomes meaningless.