The Paradox of Location vs. Technology

Did you see this piece over the weekend? In Start-Ups Follow Twitter, and Become Neighbors the New York Times presents several San Francisco companies (including, my personal favorite) that purposely located offices near Twitter for good business reasons.

Steve King called it The Real Magic Comes from Being in the Same Place in his new blog on coworking. He quotes the Times piece:

‘Even though it’s all about tech and the Internet, the real magic of Silicon Valley comes from people being in the same space,’ said Burt Herman, co-founder of Storify.

He calls it “Accelerated serendipity”

It is a belief that coworking increases the generation of business ideas and productivity.  The concept is when smart people from diverse backgrounds come together in a coworking community, good things happen – including business innovation.

Which is all cool, for sure. And of course, in my years in the Silicon Valley from 1981 through 1992, I saw that happening a lot.

But still, wait a minute: Isn’t this the opposite of 2011 and beyond? Aren’t we all – you reading this blog, me writing it, and all the information we both share on Twitter and Facebook – braking the barriers of physical space and geography with a new online landscape? One that brings us closer despite the distance in miles? Haven’t we seen lots of accelerated serendipity online?

In a comment to Steve’s post above, I quoted his (well, his company, Emergent Research) trend number 7 for 2010, from a piece about a year ago, the convergence of social, mobile, and cloud computing. And, come to think of it, trends number 4 and 5, the new localism and the growth of home businesses, are also counter to the idea of being in the same place.

My conclusion: I love a good paradox. And business is full of them.


  • JayTurn says:

    Isn’t it interesting the way we seem to be rehashing old business tactics that are being marketed as “new age”. The idea of location hasn’t gone away, in fact it is stronger than ever. It’s just not promoted as much in the traditional sense you mention above.

    A lot of online business folks are still positioning themselves in close proximity to popular businesses or should I say online identities?

    Think about all the businesses doing deals online to be associated with big online companies such as Zynga with Facebook. Or the famous bloggers positioning their businesses close to their online identity like Chris Brogan and Third Tribe.

    Positioning businesses next to the locations of other successful businesses is as popular as ever, just not as common in the bricks and mortar sense.

  • Steve says:

    Location is getting both more important and less important, which – as you point out – is an interesting paradox.

    Emergent Research partner Carolyn Ockels thinks this is related to the scarcity of time. We use online “space independent” technologies to save time and make location less important.

    But time pressures also mean we need to maximize the face to face opportunities – making location more important.

    Certainly a fun topic.

  • Charles Robinson says:

    There is a lot to be said for face to face interaction. The chance meeting in an elevator, or over lunch or in a bar. That can’t happen quite so organically when you’re separated. Someone has to find you, and to find you they have to be looking. The serendipity takes more effort.

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