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Virtual vs. Physical Interactions

- July 28, 2011 - 0 Comments

In response to my post of the Chattanooga editorial, someone wrote to me that he thought that virtual communications would make physical interaction even more important.  I won’t go into the whole argument here, but note that this is more sophisticated than the simple comparison of virtual vs. physical interactions that many people have made.

Nevertheless, I did think that it deserved a response and here it is:

I think the Internet in its current form (texting, email, social media, etc.) is still an immature form of communications.  So the crux of the matter is not so much whether the current Internet will change how people interact, but how the ubiquitous video communications of the future will affect behavior.

Our physical selves will not disappear, so there will still be physical interaction.  But I suspect that these interactions — and the cities in which these interactions takes place — will be of a different nature than what we’ve been accustomed to.  I’ve been working with the mayors, in part, on what that future city should look like and what will be its functions.  Most under threat is the urban model that primarily views the city as the dominant, centralized location of economic production.  Indeed, the traditional physical business cluster has already dissipated in many places — Detroit and Wall Street, to name just two famous clusters which are no longer as dominant in their industries as they used to be.

Economic relationships will perhaps be more affected by ubiquitous video communications than other human relationships because video communications increases the likelihood that trust will develop between potential business partners.

Of course, how this all plays out will be a cultural question.  I remember that my grandmother believed that the telephone was only to be used for very minor or extremely urgent conversations — nothing in the wide swath of human conversation in the middle, especially not business.  If you wanted to converse with her, you saw her personally, probably preceded by a letter.  My parents thought this quaint and had no problem at all conducting important business matters on the telephone.  My bet is that the next generation will take video chat for granted as a perfectly acceptable way of doing business.

Time will tell — so let’s make a date in 20 years to see which of these opposing views gets closer to the future reality.


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