The Internet vs. the City

Will digital communications make cities obsolete, or can online connections actually complement the face-to-face interactions and the cities that support them?
March 1, 2011, 2pm PST | Rebecca Sanborn Stone
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Fifteen years ago, it was commonly believed that the Internet would take the place of in-person meetings and face-to-face contact. But Edward Glaesar and Jess Gaspar wrote a paper suggesting the new universe of online connections would actually make personal contacts more valuable than ever, along with the cities that enable them.

Now, with years of evidence and research to support him, Glaesar argues that there are actually three reasons why online connections can increase personal interactions and the value of cities. New technologies increase the returns to innovation, the Internet fosters new contacts faster than interpersonal meetings decline, and cities will always beat out online interactions in certain areas (like meeting for dinner at a great restaurant). Glaesar points to geographic clusters of industries like Silicon Valley and data on phone calls as additional evidence that electronic communications can complement in-person connections, but won't replace them.

He writes, "Humanity is a profoundly social species, with a deep ability to learn from people nearby. I believe that the future will only make that asset more important."

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Published on Tuesday, March 1, 2011 in New York Times
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