Thursday, January 31, 2008

Closer in a Virtual World

If you're reading this right now then no doubt you own (or at least have access to) a computer. Which in today's world, logically follows that you probably have at least one email address, a couple of instant message accounts, and maybe even your own blog. To say nothing of your cell phones. The advance of technology has closed the distance between people all over the world.

Case in point - I live in New York, I work in an office that has sattelite offices in Dehli, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Amman, and Washington D.C., my family lives in Los Angeles, my two best-friends live in St. Louis and Birmingham respectively. Today, (it's noon here) I've talked to people in all of the above mentioned places via my computer and cell phone. Once school is over my dream job would be to work as a consultant so that I could "live anywhere I wanted" and still work at the job I love.

Seems I'm not the only one.

However, as Tim Harford so kindly points out in his recent article in Wired, "If distance really didn't matter, rents in places like London, New York, Bangalore, and Shanghai would be converging with those in Hitchcock County, Nebraska (population 2,926 and falling)."

Trust me - rents are certainly not falling in this city.

Harford argues,

Technology makes it more fun and more profitable to live and work close to the people who matter most to your life and work. Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, an expert on city economies, argues that communications technology and face-to-face interactions are complements like salt and pepper, rather than substitutes like butter and margarine. Paradoxically, your cell phone, email, and Facebook networks are making it more attractive to meet people in the flesh.

This shouldn't surprise us. Email makes it quicker and easier to reach your colleagues — you don't have to interrupt them, and messages are easy to process. But email doesn't stop you from wanting facetime, too. Just the opposite: By enabling us to maintain productive business relationships with more people, it encourages more face-to-face contact. Have you noticed business travel dying out? Neither have I. Air travel is at record highs.

I'm not sure I agree about it being attractive to meet total strangers (most of you know how I feel about on-line dating but that's a personal thing) but I can see how technology and face-to-face interactions compliment. When I worked for the law firm, we used an IM service in-house to communicate with the just about anyone in the building. It was faster than email, allowed a response even if the person on the other end was in a meeting/conference call/etc. and were a lot less messy that Post-It Notes.

In big cities, our communication tools are especially helpful because they keep us from getting lost in the crowd (which is not something you worry about in a one-street town).

This is oh so true. And not only in big cities. The smaller the world becomes the more crowded it becomes and the more important my technology links become in keeping me from being swallowed by a sea of humanity. If you think I'm being dramatic you should see what happens when I can't find my cell phone. It's not pretty.

OH, and as a perfect footnote to this discussion . . . Hello Sis. Allard!! I haven't been able to figure out how to get to your blog and post a comment yet but yes, this is the same Denelle from WAY Choir. Hope all is going well and I'll figure out how to talk to you soon!

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