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Intellectual Network Effects

John Scalzi writes:

I do get occasionally amused at being a poster child for Science Fiction’s Digital Future when I live in a rural town of 1,800 people with agricultural fields directly to my east, south and west, and Amish buggies clopping down the road on a daily basis. It’s, like, three cheers for cognitive dissonance.

I responded in the comments:

I would have had exactly the opposite reaction, that your situation is entirely representative.  For 500 years, from the Italian Renaissance through the 20th century, intellectual thought moved forward mainly hand in hand with urbanization.  I am not really an expert in describing the ins and outs of this, but there is clearly a density and network effect to intellectual advancement, and given past communication approaches, this required physical proximity.  The promise of modern IT technology is that it may allow us to achieve this density without physical proximity.

Posted on November 18, 2008 at 10:16 AM | Permalink


"there is clearly a density and network effect to intellectual advancement": didn't Newton do some of his greatest work at home while the university was closed by the plague? Come to that, Einstein was in the patent office - are theoretical physicists an exception? Or do they draw from the network and then scurry off on the principle of "I vant to be alone"?

Posted by: dearieme | Nov 18, 2008 11:24:45 AM

Regarding this and your other post on sustainability, you might be interested in some of Bruce Sterling's Last Viridian Note, archived by Cory Doctorow.

Posted by: Brian | Nov 19, 2008 10:03:43 AM

I didn't write this piece, but it is the best post I have read in a long time. I am sharing it with my readers, I'm passing it along to you. It is pure mind candy. One commenter wrote:

If this were an essay on economics, it would be the best essay on economics I’ve read in a year or more.

If this were an essay on social structures, it would be the best essay on social structures I’ve read on a year or more.

If this were an essay on conservative versus reformer mindsets, it would be the best essay on *that* that I’ve read in a year or more.

In fact, it was all three of those things, and I’m frankly stunned at how excellently you’ve made so many points in such a short space.



Posted by: Libertarian Thinker | Nov 19, 2008 11:16:30 AM

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