➻ This week’s links are about transition and change, but we begin with something that won’t change—the need for real human interaction—and Ed Keller and Brad Fay’s column in the USA Today on how Facebook can’t replace face-to-face conversation.
It is easy to see Facebook’s success as a sign of dramatic change—in technology and in human relations. But a deeper look suggests that Facebook’s rise is merely Exhibit A of a much larger truth: Our modern society is not providing people with the human connections they crave, and online social networking is a rather poor substitute. [...]
Social media has helped us rediscover the power of “social.” But the richest social gold mine is literally right under our noses: in the word-of-mouth conversations that happen in our kitchens and living rooms, next to the office water cooler, and on the sidelines of youth sporting events. These are the places where we actually live our lives.
Facebook is a fine way to find long-lost friends and exchange tidbits of information and recommendations. But if we want to promote real change—as in our politics, public policies and cultural behavior—it’s best we do it face to face.
If you’re interested in more on this topic, Keller and Fay have a wonderfully researched and well written book coming out later this month that explores and celebrates the social nature of human beings entitled The Face-To-Face Book.
➻ Pulling the lens back to view the ways in which nations interact, let’s head over to the Wall Street Journal and visit with Ian Bremmer, author of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in A G-Zero World. Hi thesis is that The Future Belongs to the Flexible.
In the years ahead, forget about much-discussed artificial groupings like the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the so-called “Next 11″ (N11), a roster of potential powerhouses that includes Turkey and South Korea but also political powder kegs like Pakistan, Nigeria and Iran.
In our emerging G-Zero world, with no single power able to set the agenda, the winners and losers of the next generation will be determined not by the rubrics of the moment but by how well and often they are able to pivot.
If you do head over to the original article, you’ll also find a 10 minute interview he gave to WSJ‘s John Bussey. Good stuff, all.
➻ As we leave the Wall Street Journal, let’s turn to a fascinating piece in n+1 by Alexis Goldstein about Leaving Wall Street itself.
Wall Street is not a collection of 1 percenters maniacally laughing at the 99 percent they have crushed under their boot. No, Wall Street is far too self-absorbed to be concerned with the outside world unless it is forced to. But Wall Street is also, on the whole, a very unhappy place. While there is always the whisper that maybe you too can one day earn f***-you money, at the end of a long day, sometimes all you take with you are your misguided feelings of self-righteousness.
I am far from the only Wall Street employee ever to feel chewed up by the system, even as I worked to perpetuate it. Another ex-Wall Street employee described feeling like a “hyper-specialized pawn” who “worked all the time with little control” of her life, and “little personal satisfaction at the end of the day.” I, too, felt manipulated, and why shouldn’t I? That was the game, after all. I felt overworked, demotivated, and I was clearly doing nothing to help the world.
I was able to leave once I decided that my happiness was more valuable than money.
Goldstein is now a member of the Occupy movement.
➻ Julia Novitch had a really intriguing interview with Elihu Rubin at the Design Observatory yesterday about Public Space and the Skills of Citizenship, which brings us back again to the power of real human interaction and the continued importance of place in our increasingly digitally connected world.
We live in such a media-saturated age, especially in the devices so many of us carry around. We’ve lost touch with the idea that urban space is itself information technology. Urban space is media. Not just the architecture, but the sounds of the city, the smells of the city, the rhythms of the city—that’s so much media. In my view, it’s a richer media than anything else that could be piped into our headsets or handsets, and I think that Occupy [Wall Street] helped people realize that again. Even though Occupy in New York was completely wired—there were people typing away in the media booth all the time—I think it also suggested a rediscovery of urban space as media and our openness to it. [...]
Social norms are being rewritten as people walk down the street sending text messages or listening to things in a headset. I think of Hemingway and others in Paris—they write, they paint, and then where do they go? They go to the public house or the cafe because that is their social media—that is their social network, and the technology for it is the café. It’s a piece of information technology, and it functions in that way. Today, it’s so much different. It’s lovely to keep in touch with friends in these different ways—Facebook and the like—and we know from places where it’s been activated politically how potent it can be. People point to Tahrir Square in Egypt as being a place where social media helped to catalyze a very physical revolution. But it really has changed forms of sociability immensely. People are choosing to use the technology of the phone handset to stay connected to a world in which they’re more comfortable, as opposed to opening themselves up to encounters, experiences and visual sensations that exist in the city itself. So I send my students off on urban drift. That’s taken from the 1950s French art group, the Situationists, who would roam around Paris en dérive—on drift—which is a willful, active disorientation in order to begin picking up the social material of the city. I do that because I think we gain a lot from this active disorientation. Our tolerance for getting lost and disoriented is waning. We have all the maps on our phones now. Yes, there’s uneven access to this information, but it’s becoming more and more pervasive across many different class groups—so that you’re always getting where you want to go. You already know where you want to go, as opposed to discovering new things.
You could say the same thing of how we move around the Internet, how we consume news and other media. It’s great to have so much information at our fingertips, but if it’s completely reinforcing your established position, if we never leave our ideological and aesthetic homes, we run the risk of intellectual agoraphobia.
➻ The power of place and strength of cities bring us to our last link of the day, from Richard Florida and Business Insider, about how It’s Up To The Cities To Bring America Back.
The real key to unleashing our creativity lies in humanity’s greatest invention—the city. Cities are veritable magnetrons for creativity. Great thinkers, artists, and entrepreneurs—the Creative Class writ large—have always clustered and concentrated in cities. Deeper in our past the concentration of people in cities not only powered advances in agriculture, but led to the basic innovations in tool-making and the rudimentary arts that came to define civilization.
The past century or so was a giant step backward on this score. Once-great cities became veritable hostages of the old industrial order, which put housing and cars before people, spurred suburban sprawl, emptying many cities in the process, and then promoted faux urban renewal around white elephant sports stadiums, convention centers, Disneyfied malls, and now even casinos.
But cities are coming back, fueled by the mass migration of talent and creative people. The nerdistan model of high-tech suburbia (Silicon Valley, the Route 128 beltway) is shifting towards urban tech as young engineers, innovators, and venture capital have started flowing to places like downtown San Francisco and New York, inner city Boston, and London and Berlin. The reason is simple: real cities have real neighborhoods. They are filled with the flexible old buildings that are ideal for incubating new ideas. They are made up of mixed use, pedestrian scale neighborhoods that literally push people out into the street, cafes and other third places, encouraging the serendipitous interactions, the constant combinations and recombinations that result in new ideas, new businesses and new industries.
Some may call this a pipe dream of an out-of-this-world urban creative utopia. I assure you it is not. It is already emerging in the here and now, powered by the very logic of our rapidly evolving knowledge economy.
A revised and updated version of Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class will be releases in June by Basic Books.
➻ If we can just piece it all together and catch the light like a stained glass window.