From LSD to surfboards and iPhones, California has long been defined by an audacious, experimental energy. This summer, London's Design Museum will celebrate the Golden State’s influence on contemporary design culture with a new exhibition, California: Designing Freedom. The central premise is that California has pioneered tools of personal liberation, and that the roots of today’s techno utopia can be traced back to the free-wheeling counterculture of the 60’s and 70’s.
California has its own history of enabling freedom of expression, from new graphic languages to social media. Perhaps no place on earth has done more to democratise access to industrial technology than California. I am a direct beneficiary of that. In December 2010, I joined the 21st century by investing in my very first MacBook Air. That laptop facilitated my leap from print to digital publishing, and my hop across the pond to carve out a career for myself as a freelance journalist. Through that instrument I was able to build a website and craft my own story, my own artefact in the digital realm.
With individualism and self-empowerment being emblematic of the State, the idea of personal liberation is intrinsic to a Californian attitude. It’s no coincidence that this is also home to Hollywood, the centre of myth making in the West. “That’s the amazing thing about Los Angeles,” says artist Doug Aitken. “Anyone can go there and carve out their own world and create their own reality.” And if the iPhone is the pinnacle of Californian ingenuity, then taking a selfie and posting it on Facebook is a quintessential Californian behaviour. Californian products have affected our lives to such an extent that in some ways the entire world has essentially become Californian.
California: Designing Freedom runs until 17 October. design museum.org