San Francisco authorities are grappling with the mysterious appearance – and sudden disappearance – of an official-looking sign that warned visitors to a nearby park that they were entering a “No Tech Zone”.
The sign was affixed to a concrete pole in San Francisco’s Alamo Square on Monday, sparking a frenzied online discussion over who had erected it and why. By late Tuesday morning, however, the sign had vanished. Local officials are insisting they have no idea who erected the sign, or indeed who removed it.
The sign, which was affixed below parking permit zone signs and apparently created to resemble local signage, stated: “NO TECH-ZONE. NO CELL PHONES, TABLETS, LAPTOPS, OR SMART DEVICES PERMITTED. VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO $300 FINE”.
At first at least, some in San Francisco assumed the diktat was in fact from local park officials.
However, the San Francisco recreation and parks department quickly assured residents the command did not come from them. Steve Cismowski, from the parks agency, told the Guardian the city did not put up the sign.
He said he had received an email concerning the sign’s sudden appearance but “hadn’t moved to do anything about it yet”.
Local residents have been left speculating over the provenance of the anti-tech message, with many assuming the sign was an artistic protest, the latest skirmish in the ongoing battle between San Francisco’s insurgent tech sector and its long-term (and, some claim, long-suffering) residents.
If that was the case, the sign appears to have been strategically placed. Each morning, just half a block from where the sign was erected, a large white Google bus picks up a handful of passengers as they head to Mountain View for work.
“I don’t have a mobile device and I think it is really important not to become slaves to technology,” said one San Francisco resident, who gave his name as Phoenix, and was out walking his dog early Tuesday morning. “It’s time people started communicating with one another so if that got their attention, I’m all for it.”
Phoenix, a self-described hippie in his 50s, said he had been walking along the same street the previous night when, ironically, he saw people were snapping selfies beneath a sign instructing them not to use their cell phones.
Marie Leroy, 28, a tourist from, Toulouse, France, who had swung by Alamo Square in the hope of catching a glimpse of the sign, said she was disappointed it had been taken down. “I had heard all about how people here don’t really like the tech world and I thought it would have been neat to post this to my friends,” she said.
The tech sector has been the target of sporadic protests from those in San Francisco who take issue with an industry they accuse of changing the city’s culture and forcing up rental prices.
In 2013 and 2014, anti-gentrification activists routinely held up and protested in front of Google buses holding not-so-subtle signs (like “Fuck Google”) as they blocked the tech buses from heading to campuses in Silicon Valley, an hour south of the city.
There is no suggestion those activists – or any protesters, for that matter – were behind the latest sign. Yet the controversy, and its amplification through social media, has left some asking whether the stunt may have backfired.
“It’s kind of funny that these people are attacking the tech world through the very [technological] means they are attacking,” said Lauren Peterson, a 32-year-old resident living a few blocks from Alamo Square (and a tech worker herself). “This wouldn’t have received attention without Twitter or Facebook, and those are the people moving in.”
Do you know who put up the sign? Contact Joseph Mayton.