Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Tech will cause a real estate crash"

This little article on the CNN site attracted my attention because Nielsen, the man interviewed, is one of my favorite design/usability experts. (I'm even more fond of the fellow he has partnered with, Nelson.) So I stopped and read the article.

All that is basically claimed is that the web and associated technologies will lead to a more dispersed workforce in the future. Living in a large city will be necessary for fewer kinds of jobs and so people will be better able to leave the city and live in the countryside. This isn't new, of course, but it did set off a little moment of reflection. People don't actually seem to be dispersing into the countryside and as futurists have predicted for more than a decade. There is a lot more telecommuting. But mostly folks are telecommuting from other locations in the city or in the surrounding suburbs. So far at least, there has not been the move to the countryside that has been predicted (a prediction that Nielsen repeats).

Futurists tend to overemphasize technology and underemphasize the social context in which it has to operate—people mostly like their colleagues and operating in a social vacuum is not the best way to succeed at most jobs. So there is a social rather than technical limit to how far telecommuting is likely to go. But it is also true that in-city telecommuting is much more successful than its country version. And I suspect that a large part of that difference lies in the fact, which Nielsen and futurists ignore, that you can't really get big pipe broadband in the country. If you want full-frame teleconferencing with your creative team, you cannot do it from a house in the country.

No, for the near future at least, your best bet to back off the city lifestyle and still keep your job will be to try to find a nice smallish city with some huge pipes and settle in there. I'd look for a place with good music, good food, and a laid back atmosphere. But that's me.

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