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Flying out of San Diego this morning (yes, my vacation is over), I’ve been thinking about the beaches we visited last week.  Mid-week, we took a break from the desert, and headed to the coast to the shi-shi town of Laguna Beach.  At the end of the week, on our way into San Diego to fly home, we stopped at the wild Torrey Pines State Park.

Beaches really are a fascinating microcosm of the world around them, and I’m not talking about the wildlife.

Laguna Beach was like a giant bar.  Full of beautiful, tanned, and fit people, it’s a place to see, to be seen, to strut your stuff.  Surrounded by hotels on the bluffs, and wonderful places to eat and shop at beach level, it’s a jewel.  Interestingly enough, though, it was also restrictive.  At 42, pasty-white, and a little overweight, I was out of my element on Laguna Beach. Even the aging beach boys, despite matts of grey or white hair on their chests, were buff, tanned and wearing stylish trunks.  No matter.  We had a great time, anyway.

Torrey Pines, on the other hand, was like a neighborhood.  People brought their lawn chairs, towels, sun chairs, boogie boards, surf boards, buckets, shovels, BBQs, and so on.  They made a day of being at the beach. In fact, one had the impression that there were a lot of neighbors at the beach as they socialized and chatted.  At the one end of the beach, most of the surfers congregated.  At the other, the scene was “beach social”.  And, among all the beautiful people there were also plenty of pudge-hounds like me.

At Laguna, a few people swam, but most people stayed on the beach.  At Torrey Pines, there were a lot more people swimming. In fact, there was generally, just a lot more going on at Torrey Pines.

Laguna Beach, in telecom terms, was a walled garden.  It was really there for only a few things.  If what you were looking for was sun, tanning, and beautiful people, Laguna was the place to be.  Torrey Pines, on the other hand, was the wild west of the Internet; a multitude of things to do, and diverse people.

At Torrey Pines, my kids started digging a hole in the beach.  It looked well back from the tide.  Soon it grew to be two massive depressions, with a foot high sand wall facing the sea. A little further down, another group of kids started doing the same.  To the left of us, some local kids with garden spades started on a project of their own.  Soon, the meme among the kids at the beach became “how big a hole and wall can you dig?”.  And then the tide started coming in.  Soon, the walls started to collapse.  Interestingly, what happened next was that kids from one swamped project would move to another and begin to shore it up.  Occasionally, another kid would take over one of the abandoned projects and start to try to rebuild it, or at least maintain it.

Soon, we were down to just one major wall remaining, with a crowd of people trying to trench it, build it up, and maintain it against the sea.  With all those people, bringing all those tools, the young fellow maintaining it was the king of a small empire of helpers.  I dubbed him Captain Ahab, knowing full well that eventually even his frail ship would be sunk by the leviathan of the tide

I laughed watching this, recognizing the open source spirit at work.  As one of the projects clearly gained enough momentum to sustain itself, the leaders of other projects abandoned their efforts (in some cases to new maintainers) to work on the best.  They brought their tools, their ideas, and their muscles to help do the heavy lifting and buttress Captain Ahab’s fortress against the onslaught of the tide.

Eventually, Ahab’s wall was breached and his magnificently large hole swamped like the rest.  Once the water filled in behind, it was just a matter of time before it collapsed.  Perhaps that’s where my open source analogy also collapses.

One of the biggest differences between Laguna and Torrey Pines was commercialism.  Laguna was relentlessly commercial, with just about every scrap of land around the beach devoted to high priced shops and restaurants.  For instance, we wanted to buy ice cream at a small ice cream shop near the beach, but didn’t.  $4 per cone would have been $24 for the six of us.  We ate dinner at a recommended taco bar, Taco Loco.  It was nearly $50 for six tacos, six drinks, and two sides, with no service, and sidewalk seating.  Way overpriced.

Torrey Pines was the exact opposite.  It’s a state park, bordered on the land side by the Pacific Highway, and a salt marsh.  Now, it’s only a short trip up Camino Del Mar to great eating in Del Mar, but if you wanted to eat at Torrey Pines, you brought lunch.  And people did so, toting in coolers, awnings, and barbecues.  And, because it’s a state park, there were definitely no shops.

That difference neatly encompasses the net neutrality debate, in my mind.  The incumbents want to build a Laguna Beach and all of the commercial opportunities it affords.  Newcomers want the freedom to use “the beach”, or rather, the network,  in any way they can conceive of.  Some have even gone so far as to suggest that that government ought to designate “the beach” a public resource, fearing that commercialism will constrain the potential of “the beach”.

Laguna was nice to visit, but ultimately you can only watch the plumage and mating rituals of Homo Sapiens “Californicus” for so long before it gets old.  However, I’d go back to Torrey Pines in a heartbeat.

And I’ll leave it you to try to guess where I stand on Net Neutrality.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Alec August 21, 2006, 12:40 pm

    Thanks Bruce. I have to say that this is the first time I've had an extended stay in Souther California, and we just loved it.

  • Bruce Stewart August 21, 2006, 3:42 pm

    Great post Alec! I grew up in southern california and spent a couple of summers in Laguna Beach, and your impressions sound exactly as I remember it. And I love the Laguna/Torry Pines net neutrality metaphor.

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