Sunday, September 17, 2006

Serendipity Pittsburgh

Ode to Jon Udell's most recent blog post...

While I am unlikely to bump into the like-minded in the Golden Triangle (mostly because I live in the Front Range of Colorado), I don't have any problem working my way into Pittsburgh online social circles. Richard Florida describes a regional comparative advantage of tolerance, which helps attract and retain the creative class. Pittsburgh is a tough nut to crack, but there is much more social tolerance on the web. I doubt that any region can compete, on Florida's terms, with the burgeoning virtual knowledge networks.

My early 20s were spent as an American vagabond. I hopped from one college town to the next because I was familiar with academic communities and I craved an exchange of ideas. In order to quench my thirst for knowledge, I needed to be on or near campus. Now, if I am looking for good conversation, I'd rather surf the internet than head to a coffee shop adjacent to the University of Colorado at Boulder. In fact, my current virtual learning environment is superior to that of my days as a graduate student. I no longer live in Boulder and I have no need to go there. For the first time in my adult life, I'm not physically attached to institution of higher learning.

I see a tension between the emerging knowledge economy and traditional knowledge production. Creativity is remarkably inefficient. You have to relocate (costly), buy real estate in a means metro (costly), and then figure out how to make the most of your opportunity (crap shoot). Cutting to the chase, I think universities are killing creativity. Academic society is relatively intolerant and the community is closed. I'd speculate that most knowledge workers fear transparency. I'd sooner recommend a blog to a student of mine interested in geopolitics than point her in the direction of a good university course. I think she would benefit more from the former interaction because of the visible archive of thinking.

We should be in the business of making knowledge production accessible to more people, not bounding innovation in creative clusters located in a few lucky regions. I do not think an urban-university synergy will pave the way to prosperity in a knowledge economy. To the extent a region can foster creativity outside of the ivory tower will be the measure of its knowledge production capacity.

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