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The proximity paradox

In conversation with a San Franciscan yesterday, I verbalized a proximity paradox that has been on the back of my mind.

Does place/proximity matter more or less to millennials?

The answer is: Neither. Proximity matters more in some ways, and less in other ways.

I believe I have seen the future of work. Distributed work and digital communications technologies can be used to prevent the typical tradeoffs between job availability and cost of living. So when it comes to our vocations, proximity may be said to matter less.

Yet at the same time, I believe that millennials are more mindful of where they live, and what that place is like. The cliche of bike lanes and beer gardens embodies this sentiment; there’s a whiff of francophile joie de vivre in the civic engagement/art/technology communities of cities like Philadelphia, Charlotte, or Nashville. A political agency in our choosing of place. Place and proximity matter more.

These effects somewhat balance out. Though I could move back to Lebanon and get a job, I wouldn’t, because I like Philadelphia. And it’s a nonstarter to imagine commuting between Lebanon and Philadelphia… but… however… what if…

I have a sneaking suspicion that robot cars will alter our human geography, same as trains, cars, and planes have. By reducing the opportunity cost of transit and perhaps even allowing the commute to be a profitable use of time, I expect we will see some new patterns, and even a modern homesteading movement as the husks of towns forgotten are revitalized for communities intentional and values-driven. There are little Edens all over the country, towns that seem to have thrived as their neighbors waned. By reducing the opportunity cost of choosing a specific place, robot cars will make proximity matter less, while at the same time enabling people to let proximity matter more.

Paradoxical, right? I dunno. Tweet me if you see something I’m missing or overlooking.

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