MSR Social Computing: Steven Johnson

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information sharing and innovation in cities
kleiber's law: relationship between mass and metabolism: life slows down when it gets bigger
so organisms tend to have the same number of heartbeats over the course of their lives
do cities work the same way?
predictable relationship between "population" and "creativity" - as cities get bigger, they get increasingly creative
- where creativity is operationalized as number of patents, startups, etc
- so cities *make* people more creative
so: the new book is about innovation environments - why some spaces seem so good at making creativity and innovation possible
- cities, rain forests, online spaces
Brian Eno: scenius (genius in enclosed groups)
the forces that drive that innovation aren't "terribly competitive"
dense environments -- hubspaces -- create spaces of information spillover in which good ideas leak over through physical proximity
- ie, the 18th century coffeehouse
great ideas often come from "porting" an old idea to a new domain - which is called exaptation in evolutionary biology
- ie, the innovation of the printing press. Gutenberg had metallurgy, but not a great idea for printing until he saw grape presses used in wine making
the myth of the eureka moment or sudden epiphany
- ideas come usually in much slower processes
- ie, Darwin's autobiography talks about an epiphany while reading Malthus...but the idea is present in his writing for months before he reads Malthus
- "a hunch slowly coming into being"
so you need to create environments where people's hunches are going to be persistent, and can come into contact with other people's hunches
- cities are that environment
architecture makes emergent ideas possible: J. Jacobs "new ideas need old buildings"
- "ideas don't tend to do very well in shiny new office buildings" [something about this repetition of ideas
- the haunting by old ideas
- often cheap spaces that people
- ie, Brooklyn music scene and the reinvention of Williamsburg [oh, I don't really buy this in terms of how W'burg was gentrified and where the music was being made and how important that music is]
so can we drive innovation even faster by affecting the urban fabric?
what kinds of metaphors can we borrow and use from the architecture of real work environments to make metaphorically useful in virtual environments?
"if we were going to be aspirational about what the web should be, maybe it should be a city"
a word of caution: don't romanticize life in cities
- there aren't actually as many interactions with strangers as you think [oh, god no! why would we want more conversations with total strangers. I think this is one of those weird assumptions about how cities are supposed to work -- that you are supposed to have conversations with strangers, that talking with strangers is the way ideas happen. because "scenes" only happen in groups of people who aren't really strangers, or who have a shared pattern of interaction happen
- children or dogs are what create stimulating stranger interactions -- before having a child, he had never had those desired conversations with strangers
- can you reproduce the kids and dogs effect online?

Q: Clay -- what about San Antonio, which is larger than San Francisco?
A: Well, San Francisco includes Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose -- the metro area is pretty big. But it's not just population size but optimal density. [well, what about LA? I feel like this entire thesis is a footnote on Jane Jacobs, and is essentially tailoring the theory to fit...Greenwich Village.]
Q: famous hubs of innovation are Silicon Valley and Rte 128 -- neither is a Jane Jacobs style city. What about organizations and universities? And what about slums? [This does get back to Ananya Roy's point about also not giving into romanticizing slum architecture] Shouldn't we be thinking about different kinds of creativity?
A: innovation in non-market spaces, such as universities (market vs network) -- taking the "open public sector" as an "engine of innovation." So Silicon Valley had big universities, and the Bay Area counterculture legacy
Q: So why are so many city-sited companies killing innovation?
A: 20% time as hunch-cultivating system
Q: Linda S. -- randomness and unpredictability lacking in companies -- how to fertilize?
A: brain cycling between phaselock and chaos states - research on people with slightly longer chaos states -- they are, no surprise, more creative.
[I think I want to push back a bit on the notion of talking that SJ is dealing with -- both in terms of nonverbal interaction AND in terms of the value of talking to strangers. I think there's on the one hand civic health and on the other hand the hothousing of ideas. In any case, the whole thing is, as Adam says, very culturally specific -- both in terms of how creativity is defined and how it is presumed to grow.]
Q: Molly asks about "underground" creativity -- samizdat, illegal immigrants, black market, etc -- and the exclusivity implied in using male-only coffeehouses as an exemplar of how creativity happens (also, creativity through talk, not making)]


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This page contains a single entry by Liz published on January 11, 2010 10:49 AM.

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