Silicon Valley has produced more technological prosperity than anywhere else in the history of humanity.
And yet right in the middle of Silicon Valley is a ghost town. It’s the island town on San Francisco Bay of Drawbridge.
In the late 1870s folks from Oakland and San Francisco flocked to Santa Cruz on the new railroad which cut the two-day stage coach trip down to just a few hours. The trip cost $40 or the equivalent of $900 today. Drawbridge grew up as a fishing village and it was a world class duck hunter’s paradise. That is until they invented the Punt, a bird gun so lethal that you could kill half a flock with a single one-pound load of birdshot. This is the same gun which exterminated the passenger pigeon. It seems likely that the passenger pigeon was the most plentiful bird on earth until the 20th century. People! Am I right?
140 years ago the train stopped ten times a day in Drawbridge and the village grew to 600 people. Because it had no civil government and they policed themselves. Or didn’t, because gambling, prostitution and drugs were the order of the day. None of this was illegal on the mainland in the 1800s but Drawbridge kept up their lascivious activities long after they were no longer legal. There were hotels, saloons, general stores and even a photography studio. One thing they didn’t have was a livery stable because you could only reach the town by train so there was little need for horses.
Folks seemed to like living there and some former residents are still around; the last person left in 1979. The reason for the original drawbridge was to allow ships to go to Alviso which was San Jose’s seaport back then. Much of the Bay was eventually filled in by silt from the hydraulic gold mining in the Sierras in the 1800s. This, however, isn’t what killed Drawbridge. It was pollution from the fruit canning factories which used sulfuric acid in the canning and drying process and this poisoned the bay waters. Plus, the adjacent towns used the Bay as a sewer. Drawbridge’s water wells failed, the ducks were executed, the fish went belly up (in this case the expression is particularly apt) and soon it was just a few old folks with nowhere else to go.
With the fish and fowl on permanent vacation the only use left for the baylands was the dehydration of seawater for salt which yielded just a few dollars a ton. This stands in dramatic contrast to the Silicon Valley production of information and ideas that weigh ahhh…less. One calculation shows that the total weight if the ‘information’ comprising the internet (if seen as a collection of electrons) would fit in your pocket.
Using the estimated storage capacity, the fact that an electron weighs approximately 9.1×10-31 and the knowledge that there are approximately 40,000 electrons per bit (Cass, 2007) we can estimate that the internet now weighs around 5 ounces.
I can imagine the last few residents sitting on a porch in 1933 watching the dirigible Akron landing at Moffatt Field and being informed that a new world with a bright future was smack dab in their front yard…even as the toilet fish drifted by and few duck feathers fluttered in the spider webs.
It is not legal to walk along the railroad tracks to visit but who’s to stop you.