Proximity VS. Technology

A Review of the Tim Harford Article in WIRED 16.02

phoebe-wired“In theory, technology should allow new-economy firms to prosper as easily in [Indiana] as in Silicon Vally.  But far from killing distance, it has made proximity matter more than ever.” – Tim Harford, “You’ve Got Mail”

Harford writes how technology was supposed to level the playing field.  It wasn’t supposed to matter whether you were in your office or at home, in the middle of Iowa or in lower Manhattan–but that’s not what happened.  He references American Economic Review who found that most commercial innovations still reside in only three areas: California, New York/New Jersey, and Massachusetts.  Indiana has been bleeding cash building up fiber optic networks and technology parks in counties all over the state.  Will it make a difference?

Harford goes on to suggest that technology hasn’t allowed us to be farther apart–and yet still stay successful.  Those who are more successful use technology to better communicate with the people closest in proximity to them.  For example, the most productive workers are the ones emailing the guy in the cubicle next to them.  Their also the ones who use tools to “meet up” with others based on cell phone proximity alert services.  Face-to-face meetings are where ideas best come forward.

It could be said that by the Law of Averages, the greatest number of innovations should come from the areas of highest population, but there is something else going on here.  The whole idea of communication via technology, whether that be by email, cell phones, social networking sites, mash-ups, or whatever, its people on the other end.  People are social by nature.  Facial recognition is built into our DNA.  We need human contact.  Use technology to get more human contact, and in so doing, be more successful.