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Research is the region’s strong point: academic institutions in Cambridge, MA, spend $4 billion on R&D each year, compared to only $1.3 billion for the entire Bay Area, according to the National Science Foundation. You get to this level by being methodical—very much a Boston trait—not scattershot like San Francisco, trying 57 varieties of everything from Web-based grocery delivery to mobile photo-sharing.
And ideas are obviously the life’s blood of all innovation. If you’re a Boston-educated person living in San Francisco, pretty soon you start to miss the heady intellectual air of Boston and Cambridge—the constant seminars and symposiums and conferences and colloquia—and you realize that most of the ideas you hear in San Francisco tech circles are about how companies can earn more money. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
To sum up: if I were playing the word association game, the table below shows how I’d boil down the attributes of Boston and San Francisco. Again, these are generalizations. It’s important not to take a list like this too seriously. It portrays the two cities in terms of polar extremes, while in reality, such attributes tend to spread out along a spectrum, with lots of overlap. But I think most people with experience in both places would agree with these high-level descriptions.
|Respectful of tradition||Transfixed by novelty|
|Looking east, toward Europe||Looking west, toward Asia|
|Prioritizes experience||Prioritizes youth|
|Prone to testing and debate||Prone to action and implementation|
|Cautious veneer, loyal interior||Friendly veneer, shallow interior|
My personal solution to the Boston vs. San Francisco dilemma has been to choose both. I’m authentically bicoastal, seemingly unable to settle in either place once and for all. From 1985 to 1997, I was going to school in Boston and getting my feet wet as a science and technology writer. From 1998 to 2006 I held various editorial posts in and around Silicon Valley. From 2007 to 2010 I was back in Boston again, helping to get Xconomy off the ground. Then I went west again to spend four years as the editor of Xconomy San Francisco. As I write this, I’m en route to Boston once again for a new job (more on that soon). While I hope to build something lasting in my new post, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if I find myself back in San Francisco at some point. I’m keeping my dual citizenship.
To be honest, I think bicoastal is best—at least when it comes to technology journalism. In Boston, I’ve cultivated a serious, skeptical turn of mind that has served me well as a reporter covering the sometimes frothy and shallow technology scene in San Francisco. In San Francisco, I’ve developed an appreciation for the power of aggressive risk-taking that gives me the confidence to fault Boston-based innovators when it seems they’re being too cautious. Whether their denizens like to admit it or not, the two regions serve as one another’s alter egos. Each would be diminished without the other.
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