Living in places where awesome people live is awesome for you. For instance, if you live near folks you really love—your family, your BFFs, and the like—then studies suggest you'll be much happier than if you were all on your lonesome. As well, more and more research is showing that things we used to think were profoundly individual—like health and innovation—are actually quite collective: seems we can't help but be social creatures.
The most social of these social creatures tend to congregate in social places: you can call them cities. As Enrico Moretti, author of The New Geography of Jobs, tells the Creativity Post, your location dramatically impacts your creativity and productivity, since the place where you live quite literally determines who you can surround yourself with—in a way that not even the Internet can replicate.
Interestingly, it's the people who make a lot of the Internet that are most sensitive to this fact: as Moretti says, the reason you move from Ohio or Israel to Silicon Valley is "to be where the action is": you want to be surrounded by the engineers, entrepreneurs, and designers that are doing the same work you want to do. It's also why would-be fashionistas or financiers flock to New York, fledgling politicos head to D.C., and aspiring actors to L.A.
"When you are in the business of creating new products, ideas, or technologies," he says, "you need to be close to other people who are in your field."
In this way we get "brain hubs," places that contribute an outsized portion of the GDP and generate an unreasonable number of patents. This capital-ization has pretty far-reaching effects: the more high-tech, high-powered folks you have in a place, the more similarly gifted people will be attracted to moving there—and all these jobs actually generate more jobs. Moretti says that a high-tech job actually creates something like 10 service sector gigs.
But this isn't just a point of economic fascination: it's also something we can consider in navigating our careers and deciding where we're going to plunk down and get our work done. While the Internet is great for making loose connections, you're unlikely to help someone who follows you on Twitter find a job in the same way as you'd help a close contact—as one Facebook data scientist found.
The people we know affect us in subtly major ways: for one, they help us land gigs. For two, they shape our behavior: if you're someone who's endlessly assessing things, then it's a good idea to pair up (personally or professionally) with someone inclined toward action (though you may drive yourself crazy for a while). Third, they shape our ideas.
The reason academics are so obsessed with who their colleagues are is not just prestige: it is productivity. The person that we hire and sits in the office next door influences our creativity and our thinking. This extends to private sector research. For specific fields, the presence of a university is crucial. For example, in life science research, being physically very close to a university is important. Being able to talk to the academics involved in basic science, attending their seminars, sharing ideas is crucial. Thus it is not an accident that biomedical researchers tend to cluster around universities. Imagine trying to be a biotech company in the middle of a state where there is no strong research university, you would feel completely cut out of the creative process. Even if you can go online and have access to the same publications as everyone else, and see the same patents, you will still miss out on the element of the human conversation and exchange of ideas.
In other words, the same reason we offend people over email is the same reason we build more trust in person: in-person interactions are just so much richer than anything mediated.
Hat tip: The Creativity Post