Garden State of Mind

11 06 2017

New Jersey

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Before Silicon Valley, New Jersey Was Tech Capital

It was in New Jersey that Thomas Edison invented sound recording, motion pictures, and the light bulb in what is considered the first modern corporate R&D facility. In other words, Edison invented the modern lab — teams of people working together, sharing ideas and perfecting devices. In the century after Edison, New Jersey became the place to set up shop if you wanted to invent. On top of all the other assets, the state had lots of inexpensive land available. The transistor and cellular communications came out of AT&T’s Bell Labs, also in New Jersey. If it was 1955 and you had to bet on where the next half-century of technical innovation would emerge, the Garden State would be the most likely winner, not some farmland south of San Francisco. As a couple of Jersey natives at NPR note, it didn’t quite work out that way. What happened?

I’ll take a stab.

(1) Average January high in Newark is 39, in Palo Alto 58.  Average annual snowfall in Newark is 28 inches, in Palo Alto, none.  Average annual rainfall in Newark is 46 inches, in Palo Alto 16 inches.

(2) Father Lewis Terman and son Fred Terman.  That father-son combination was brilliant and Machiavellian, and exploited the best parts of the raw drive for human intelligence, measurement and selection, California’s one-time individualist-libertarian political climate, and channeling a lot of Federal military-defense R&D money into the area.

(3) New Jersey is smack dab in the Bos-Wash northeastern Acela corridor, which for a long time has had a business climate focused on large corporations.  I am of the opinion that the personal computer could have never been invented or popularized by the big three-letter Acela corporations, because, as far as they were concerned, computing only concerned large corporations, and therefore, individuals and their households had no use or need for them.  It took the California individualist-narcissistic mentality (that it once had) to fathom an individual even wanting a computer.  For the same reason, historically, team sports were popular in Eastern industrial towns, while they weren’t that much in California.  Because team sports carried the same connotation as team employment or team industry, the large corporation, the large factory.  Olympic style sports, which are generally more individual than team affairs, were both popular in and sometimes grew out of, a place like California, because of its (former) atomistic-libertarian climate.

(4) “Had lots of inexpensive land.”  By 1955, that wasn’t so true in New Jersey anymore, but it was true “south of San Francisco.”

(5)  The Termans, Fred especially, developed the business-academic mentality, again, rooted in what California’s political climate used to be, of the Stanford-to-startup pipeline.  This new industry generally attracted people who were, along with being highly geeky and intelligent, also highly entrepreneurial.  So, if their two options were corporate slave in New Jersey or roll-your-own between San Francisco and San Jose, guess where they were going to go.

(6)  Part of what hurt Edison and New Jersey insofar as motion pictures is that certain ((())) intent on ripping off Edison’s IP set up shop fairly close to the Mexican border, so they could quickly schlep across it if process servers came calling.

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2 responses

11 06 2017
Truth-hammer

What does “((( )))” mean? Inquiring evil Nazi minds want to know. Solely for reasons of enlightenment and religious fulfillment.

11 06 2017
Alex the Goon

I think it’s ASCII art for a triple-wide butt.

It's your dime, spill it. And also...NO TROLLS ALLOWED~!

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