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How the Crash Will Reshape America

Adhering to the motto “a provocative title will surely increase readership”, Atlantic has an interesting article on How the Crash Will Reshape America:

Economic crises tend to reinforce and accelerate the underlying, long-term trends within an economy. Our economy is in the midst of a fundamental long-term transformation—similar to that of the late 19th century, when people streamed off farms and into new and rising industrial cities. In this case, the economy is shifting away from manufacturing and toward idea-driven creative industries—and that, too, favors America’s talent-rich, fast-metabolizing places.

I find Richard Florida’s “world is spiky” view to be more accurate than Thomas Friedman’s “world is flat”. But, in this article a tension that I’ve felt with Florida’s work is more clearly revealed than previously. Florida has argued – generally quite effectively – that location matters. Cities and regions of creativity and innovation spur growth. To succeed in your career, it’s a good idea to be in areas that are hotspots for your field. But…I am not sure how to reconcile this view with the growth of technology. Now, more than ever, technology has reduced the challenges of distance. Online education and distributed teams reflect this. Video conferencing and online conferences reduce the need for travel. Is location less, not more, important than in the past?

6 Comments

  1. Matt wrote:

    Some would argue that while technology makes communication more convenient, it also makes it harder to truly connect with people. I think there are some types of ideas that require the trust and familiarity unique to in-person encounters.

    Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  2. Viplav Baxi wrote:

    Proximity can go both ways, I guess. But I believe location is important. Culture and technology can both be ambient to a large degree, not entirely discoverable in a virtual environment. Also, since technology is so important, and locations are at various stages of development in terms of access to quality technology, this becomes an important factor. Diplomatic barriers to travel, corporate vs university setting, barriers to trade, IPR laws and other such factors that Florida mentions specific to a location would definitely impact as well. I am not so sure that these factors would reduce with changes in only the technological landscape. It perhaps requires some political, national and international, vision to reduce these factors.

    Friday, February 13, 2009 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  3. The study of human geography shows us just how much location matters. We have countless historical and current regional examples of conflicts that are as much about location as they are about culture or religion. (Middle East, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa) From a career perspective, Florida makes some good points about creativity. Obviously, if you get a bunch of highly creative people concentrated in one geographical location, you are bound to see increased creative economic development. But, I also believe that technology mitigates the need to be geographically present. I’ve worked on teams with members dispersed all over the world, and it’s amazing the creative ways we deal with time zones and content sharing. At the same time, we (the universal “we”) have a long way to go. Virtual communication and effective work on complex projects requires a paradigm shift and proactive approach to communication. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way technology is changing communication. It’s not all conducive to effective distributed work. Look at how humans have adapted to email and texting. We’ve had the telephone for 100 years, but now many people prefer to communicate via IM, text messaging, or email rather than get on a call. Is it because these methods are easier/better? Or, have we found a way to actually avoid each other while we appear to be communicating? I’m not passing judgment on these options. They work very well when things are running smoothly, but their effectiveness deteriorates as issues become more complex. To have an effective geographically dispersed team, all members must be proactive about reaching out and over-communicating. We have a lot of evolving to do within this new paradigm of work before it transcends all F2F interaction. As more people experience virtual work, they will come to understand how and when to use various communication technologies most effectively. They may also have to be more social. Will this work for everyone? I’m not sure.

    Friday, February 13, 2009 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  4. Lanny Arvan wrote:

    I read Florida’s article differently, looking at it through the lens of a College that while competing vigorously has nonetheless been losing faculty who have moved to more urban areas. The proximity issues are about opportunities for spouse, quality of schools, other cultural experiences, restaurants in particular, and for those who are single the other aspects of social life that we married and with children tend to forget that drive much of what he said. The work itself could be done totally online (most of it isn’t) and much of what he said would still be true. Some of us opt out of living in the congested areas for much the same reasons and enjoy small town life. But, obviously we’re not the majority.

    If Florida is right, it is an interesting question whether currently excellent Universities that are away from the population centers can survive.

    Monday, February 16, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  5. Bob wrote:

    The question is really too broad to answer. Does location matter how, to whom, for what, etc.

    Having just moved from a suburb to a city, I’m finding location matters a lot to me — that’s why we moved! I like being able to walk places, visit restaurants and cultural events. We’re a block from the library.

    However, if we’re discussing whether it matters to elearning professionals, probably not so much. Still, context is everything. Unless you live at your computer desk, you still are affected by and interact with your geographical, physical, cultural, historical context.

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  6. Kira wrote:

    I think part of Florida’s point was, the suburbs will not die (not all of them) but we’ve been inefficient, wasting space, and keeping closer quarters inspires a collaberation which inspires new ideas.

    Everyone knows that smaller towns and cities are more conservative in general and do not promote new ways of doing things.

    Florida also said more people should rent as opposed to own, I think this is about being able to move and not being tied down to one area if your job should change or move, or you get a new one, you wouldn’t be stuck with your house. Of course, in cities, it is much easier to rent out your condo, if you should have a career change.

    Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

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