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Hiding Out in San Diego

By Daiga Atvara on Sep 09, 2013

It can be liberating to not receive constant stimulus telling you what you to see, hear, think, like, admire, hate. It brings freedom to reach that mysterious zone where new ideas form and can be captured, held, honed, released. But that place where these ideas can grow and be nurtured isn’t always an abstract. Sometimes it’s concrete. In my case, that place is located in Southern California—San Diego, to be precise. It’s where I co-founded my digital agency, Digitaria.

I’m not going to tell you San Diego is Heaven on Earth; Buzzfeed’s already done it for me. But I will say there is no place I would rather live and work, and I don’t think Digitaria would be the same company if it were headquartered anywhere else. Who we are and what we’ve become are direct results of where we’re based.

When I first moved to the United States from Latvia 19 years ago, I didn’t even know the difference between the West and East coasts. While I believed (and still do) that Americans had the most interesting advertising and technological innovations, I had no clue about the Madison Avenue vs. Silicon Valley dynamics and intricacies.

Luckily for my emerging worldview, I met Dan Khabie. I soon found out that, along with being a remarkable marketing and communications guy, Dan was also a crazy, brilliant, visionary entrepreneur who had fled Minneapolis for warmer days and creative people. He seemed inspired and infused with the value of his own self-worth without a trace of arrogance, and walked like he had both feet on a pathway to the future.

Though we had a lot in common, two things stuck out: We were both transplants to San Diego from someplace much colder, and we both loved it in “America’s Finest City.” So, without really thinking about how insane it was to launch a creative design boutique shop in No Man/Woman’s Land, we just decided to do it: Live in Southern California, focus on doing great work and ignore all the mainstream prerequisites and perceptions that, if bought into, can be crippling—not just to creativity but to your ability to think.

Now, here we are today, leading Digitaria, doing exactly what we want to do. 

Take Rolex, for example. The work, created in tandem with JWT NY, is different not just because we are a different creative team working from a digital perspective, but because we approach the challenges from a altered angle—our curiosity is mixed with the instinct for change, an urge to innately move away from "me too" trends and thinking. 

In a dissimilar way, our work with the non-profit Invisible Children is likewise a product of our environment. The fact we're both based in San Diego has something to do with it, certainly, but we also share a "nothing is impossible" attitude that is distinctly SoCal. I don't think we could've made radio towers in deepest Central Africa to transmit early warnings of war criminal if we where not from where we are—it took jumping into unknown (similar to what we went through personally) without questioning if it's even possible—we just did it because we wanted to create technology that could make this idea a reality.

So I often wonder how Digitaria became this thing; were we like that from the very beginning because there was something similar in our souls that made us choose to travel off-the-beaten-path and follow our shared muse towards what we thought was interesting and meaningful? Or are we really just slipstreaming off the already established mass perception of the Modern West Coast tech-and-innovation thing?

Either way, that concept is clocked under Pacific Standard Time. But how does San Diego fit into the West Coast paradigm? What distinguishes us within this silicon-surfer-relaxed-take-it-easy-everything-is-possible-let’s-dream-on culture?

To me, San Diego is a place that makes it natural to figure out who you really are and what are you’re really capable of. There are no pressing trends, no cool crowds you need to be part of, no essential places to be seen, no deeply important people you need to recognize.

It’s a great place for watching the world. Not watching it pass you by, mind you, but watching it at a bit of a distance. It makes us outsiders in a way, but outsiders who don’t necessarily want into the party. There is more opportunity to write your story as you go in San Diego, because the most significant attractions of our town are simple; they don’t threaten to overwhelm the plot of your own life, but instead supplement it: endlessly glorious weather, a beloved tourist destination, dolphin watching, annual Comic-Con madness, Mexican border crossing. It’s easy to revise the screenplay of your life in such a setting.

Thus, as it turns out, most of our agency people come from all over the world. They came here to get away from the glory-hungry social vampires and the puddle-deep people so into instant gratification they can’t see what’s been important for eternity. 

It’s like we’re all in this strange spaceship, heading nowhere in particular, floating above this beautiful city of San Diego. We can go anywhere we like, belong to any place we please. It’s beautiful and hidden, like a precious secret. And now you know ours.

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