Richard Holway, a UK IT analyst and a founder of TechMarketView, recalls the pre-Facebook days in his latest newsletter.
“At the weekend a few old technologists like me got together and discussed the ‘good old days’ of the 1960s. How each day several hours were spent in the pub at lunch time – from the CEO to the lowliest programmer like me at the time – and then again on the way home. We discussed how all the great ideas were both born and communicated from the pub. How all the most interesting news was disseminated, successes celebrated and sorrows on failures drowned over a pint.”
Silicon Valley firms used to be known for their Friday afternoon pizza and beer parties and even now are much more likely to have a pool table in the office than non-IT companies. Have we lost something here?
David Brooks, writing in The New York Times, makes a similar point as he described Rahm Emanuel campaigning for mayor of Chicago.
“Many of us are drawn to the big power politics of Washington, but city politics is better than national politics because the problems are more tangible and the communication is more face to face.
This is a point Edward Glaeser fleshes out in his terrific new book, “Triumph of the City.” Glaeser points out that far from withering in the age of instant global information flows, cities have only become more important.
That’s because humans communicate best when they are physically brought together. Two University of Michigan researchers brought groups of people together face to face and asked them to play a difficult cooperation game. Then they organized other groups and had them communicate electronically. The face-to-face groups thrived. The electronic groups fractured and struggled.
Cities magnify people’s strengths, Glaeser argues, because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown. Companies that are near the geographic center of their industry are more productive. Year by year, workers in cities see their wages grow faster than workers outside of cities because their skills grow faster. Inventors disproportionately cite ideas from others who live physically close to them.
For years, cities like Detroit built fancy towers and development projects in the hopes that this would revive the downtown core. But cities thrive because they host quality conversations, not because they have new buildings and convention centers.”