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Networking Will Make Great Cities Even Greater

Steven Johnson, one of the more interesting thinkers of our time, has a wonderful column in Discover on why new digital technologies will not only help people out in the sticks communicate with each other, but will be even more powerful for folks in big cities.

He builds his argument around a new social networking program called Dodgeball, that Google recently purchased.

He writes in part:

…digital networks were supposed to make cities less attractive, not more. The power of telecommuting and instant connectivity was going to make the whole idea of densely packed urban cores as obsolete as the walled castle cities of the Middle Ages. Why would people crowd themselves into harsh, overpopulated environments when they could just as easily work from their homestead on the range? But as it turns out, many people actually like the density of urban environments, precisely because they offer diversity: Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurants, live performances by Scandinavian doo-wop bands, a thousand quirky bars and cafés teeming with potential friends and crushes.

The new cellphone based technology will make it easy for each of us to find like minded people in an instant, even as we walk down seemingly impersonal streets, but Johnson argues that you need to have a critical mass of those people, which you can only find in high population areas.

Indeed that very lack of critical mass is what causes the suburbs and small towns to be havens mostly for Wal-Marts and chains that aim to the masses. Little niche places can’t survive without the critical mass. Nor maybe can little niche ideas with the potential for growth in the right environment.

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