Cities or Solitude

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Susan Kain in the New York Times has a pro-Introvert article: The Rise of the New Groupthink: "SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. "

In contrast, there are many who believe that cities, the machines that enables those inter-personal interactions, are the source of creativity. This is epitomized by recent books by Ed Glaeser and Ryan Avent.

We can make a simple table:

City Country
Introvert Optimal amount of stimulation if quite space,
Practical Creativity
Hermit alone in thoughts,
Pure theory
Extrovert Too many attractions,
Connects rather than creates
Unsatisfied, No one to riff with


This is a gross oversimplification of personality and environments, and the text in the boxes is probably unfair to extroverts, who I am sure have created something in the history of humanity. It does however suggest both the risks of cities on being too stimulative (not enough time for thought), and the country (i.e. the antithesis of the city), which may be insufficiently stimulative and leave too much time for thought and not enough for testing of ideas.

Several really good ideas have come from the country though, and not just agricultural implements. My favorite story is that of Philo Farnsworth, one of the individuals credited with inventing the television. As wikipedia says: "A farm boy, his inspiration for scanning an image as series of lines came from the back-and-forth motion used to plow a field." We would not have had television as soon, or possibly in the same form, but for agricultural plowing strategies.

The key is to ensure the city has quite spaces, and the country has connecting places, both of which societies create, although one can argue whether the quantities and qualities are optimal for various things.

See also my old post: Does creativity whither with age?.

1 Comment

Hey Prof., it's "quiet" not "quite" and "wither" not "whither".

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on January 16, 2012 9:19 AM.

Network Structure and City Size was the previous entry in this blog.

Linklist: January 17, 2012 is the next entry in this blog.

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