Mapping Knowledge

The world is flat, at least as far as knowledge exchange is concerned. Knowledge, like migrants, doesn't travel very far.
Author:
Publish date:
The World Is Flat. (IMAGE: FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX)

The World Is Flat. (IMAGE: FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX)

Two parallel schools of inquiry into the same subject matter toil in ignorance. What's the impact of geography on knowledge exchange? One school's take:

“When people tend to work in the same geographic areas, knowledge tends to get shared, not just within companies, but between them,” acknowledges Matt Marx, an assistant professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management. “Some people have said this is all about distance, and the closer you are, the more the knowledge is flowing. But we find that there is a state [border] effect, although it’s getting weaker over time.” More puzzlingly, however, he notes, “The country effect is getting stronger.” ...

... “It’s not just how many miles are between researchers,” Marx says. “You might think that, with the Internet, those borders shouldn’t matter. But they do.”

Read the study for yourself. Ah yes, borders matter. Geography matters. Distance is not dead. Grab the pitchfork and head to Thomas Friedman's house. The Internet revolution not only won't be televised, it isn't happening. The Mask of Anarchy is sad.

Psst ... the world is flat, at least for knowledge exchange. So sayeth the German pork butchers in Britain. People who toil in the same geographic areas wouldn't know much of anything if it weren't for migration. Density be damned. Welcome to the parallel universe.

Knowledge, like migrants, doesn't travel very far. Flat World is the exception:

The overwhelming importance of “micro-geography” was quite striking, particularly as this is the sort of organization in which Instant Messaging and e-mail (plus blogs and wikis) might have otherwise suggested the death of distance. Certainly this research changed my mind about the importance of open-plan seating. This isn’t a lesson lost on Google either, as cube-mates are kept in close proximity, and Googlers are asked to move desks approximately once every three months. Interestingly, personal relationships persist once these moves have occurred, and people tend to trade in a way correlated with that of their cube-mate from three months ago; although, reassuringly, they do not trade in a way correlated with their future cube-mate. (I say “reassuringly” because this is a useful way of testing whether our results reflect Google seating people with similar opinions near each other, rather than people near each other influencing the opinions of others.)

Emphasis added. Funny, that. Joe Schmo from Idaho leaves cool, diverse, and dense New York to go back to Boise and continues to trade with his cosmopolitan "cube-mates" in Brooklyn. State borders don't matter. Geography is dead.

Related