Monday, July 1, 2013

Archimedes yelling Eureka - maybe

M.I.T research led by Wei Pan concluded that productivity and innovation in urban areas grow at roughly the same rate as population, largely because the greater density of people living in a city increases the opportunities for personal interactions and exposure to different ideas. Put simply, living in a city makes us more innovative.

The idea that Archimedes yelling “Eureka” as he ran naked through the streets of Syracuse is a nice visual for the concept of discovery, albeit unlikely given the story first appeared in a book two centuries after the Greek scholar had died. The story does however feed the fantasy of discovery as a solitary and sudden experience.

Wei Pan, analyzed all kinds of factors to tabulate the “social-tie density” of different cities–that’s the average number of people each resident will interact with personally. 

They looked at everything from the number of call partners with whom a cellphone user will end up sharing a cell tower to the number of people connecting through location-based social networks like Foursquare to the contagion rates of diseases spread only through personal contact. And they found that the higher a city’s social-tie density, the higher its levels of productivity and patents awarded.

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