As Samuel Morse’s telegraph started transmitting messages in the 1840s, the New York Herald proclaimed that “space and time are annihilated”. Much like the bold assertions at the start of COVID-19 about how Zoom would eliminate all business travel, that journalist’s prediction missed the mark.
Optimistic projections about technology and the future often fall short because they ignore humans’ need to congregate. If a telegraph and other innovations annihilate time and space, why do people still choose to live in cities that are dirty, exorbitantly expensive, more dangerous, and cramped? The answer is easy: social benefits and the advantages of proximity. From a business perspective, research shows that social proximity is a key factor for innovation.
"Researchers in geography and urban economics... have accumulated substantial evidence that geographical proximity between the people and the organizations that produce knowledge remains central to their ability to stay innovative. Case studies of innovative sectors such as biotechnology, semiconductor, aerospace, and media reveal that clustering is a common phenomenon.” - JW Sonn, M. Storper, ‘The Increasing Importance of Geographical Proximity in Knowledge Production’