“In this age of online everything, we still get smart being around other smart people; we still have new ideas surrounded by other people with ideas,” said Jonah Lehrer, contributing editor at Wired, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and author of Imagine: How Creativity Works. “That is still how creativity happens.”
During the most recent episode of the Marketing Smarts podcast, Lehrer and I were discussing the impact of city life on creativity and the critical difference between living in a city and living online.
“What makes cities so essential is that they are a vessel for human interaction,” Lehrer insisted, pointing out that all the talk some years back about the virtues of telecommuting and people moving to the exurbs thanks to the Internet hasn’t really amounted to much. People continue to move to cities in record numbers.
According to Lehrer, the Internet “is not a substitution for the helter skelter of the city,” which allows for random encounters and all the unexpected opportunities that come with them.
Just to make one comparison, while close to a billion people are on Facebook, we really interact with a surprisingly small fraction of “friends,” and the interactions that do occur are superficial. I mean, how much time and energy do we actually invest in “liking” something?
I asked Lehrer if his skeptical take on the Internet pointed to a kind of technological pessimism on his part. When people were touting “Work 2.0″ and prophesying the mass movement of knowledge workers to Ecotopia, I pointed out, the social media hadn’t yet really emerged. Didn’t Lehrer think that the bumps and fortuitous chance meetings afforded by the city could be replicated online and usher in a new technically mediated era of collaboration and creativity?
While admitting that he wasn’t about to bet against Silicon Valley, Lehrer said he just didn’t think that the Internet was quite there yet. In spite of all today’s tools for forging new connections, we still prefer—and get more out of—meeting face to face.
“People know that something happens when we come together in person,” he said. “There’s a reason we all still move and pay the rents of cities: because something magical happens when you put people together in a room. We multiply our own imaginations. We become more creative. We become more than the sum of our parts.”
As “rich” as my life online is (I work from home, after all) and as many unexpected connections as I’m able to make via Twitter (I’ve gone out of my way to keep my Twitter stream fairly eccentric), I absolutely agree with Lehrer. When you go to a conference or even a Tweet-up and make an effort to talk to people you don’t know (this can be a challenge, I concede), you can make surprising and rewarding new connections. In fact, it’s one of the big reasons that I’m so looking forward to attending SocialTech this week!
If you work from home like me, what do you do to create opportunities for meeting others in person?
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Blurred Crowd)