Gregory Benford has a new essay, “Sunshine Technopolis”, online at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
But the Southland’s new industries did not resemble William Blake’s 19th century Satanic mills. They seldom gave us views like the Long Beach refineries, though oil played a major role in drawing wealth from and to the region. Many new methods of extraction were pioneered in the Long Beach fields. Raymond Chandler got himself fired from his oil company executive job in the early 1930s, partly because he was a drunk and partly because he could not keep up with the pace of change in the industry. This lucky failure gave us his classic wise-cracking skepticism about the mean streets that were spreading over the obliging land.
Spreading innovation was always crucial. SoCal offered not the old way but the freeway. Key to this culture was a new idea: tools open us to fresh possibility faster than theories. Through Mt. Wilson’s clear air Edmund Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding. Einstein came to Caltech to confer with Hubble, who had directly shown what Einstein had not ventured to propose — a universe growing larger, not static.