Re: Econ of Etalk and Cities

Eugene Leitl (
Fri, 6 Sep 1996 14:47:48 +0200 (MET DST)

On Thu, 5 Sep 1996, Robin Hanson wrote:

> [ paper source snipped ]
> Will improvements in information technology eliminate face-
> to-face interactions and make cities obsolete? In this paper,

Highly unlikely, since cities are not built merely to facilitate
meetings. High-quality infrastructure is expensive -- the more the
structure deviates from a sphere, the larger is the average path length.
Suburbia is an infraststructure cost (installation/repair) nightmare.

Though some teleworkers will relish the new freedom by moving into rural
areas, further compaction of cities into virtually one huge building, a
hierarchical assembly from pretty autark cells is desirable. Particulary,
small diameters (reduced absolute travel distances, just a few km!) and
introduction of crossing-free autorouting matrix traffic systems will
make car city traffic obsolete.

Ideally, one should use a two-component separable traffic system: a human
container/cabin, owned by customer, spending its time mostly docked to
the living area, and an automatically attachable/detachable carrier, which
is owned by the service provider.

Within the city, the carrier does not need but the (electrical)
propulsion unit, utilizing energy grid infrastructure of the city.

Different carrier structures for overland, air, etc. traffic are
possible, changes occur transparently to the user. (The need for carrying
one's environment has mostly psychological reasons).

> we present a model where individuals make contacts and choose
> whether to use electronic or face-to-face meetings in their
> interactions. Cities are modeled as a means of reducing the
> fixed travel costs involved in face-to-face interactions.

Signals, solids, gases and fluids and electricity have to travel as well.
Shared infrastructure allows use of larger grains, which has a positive
impact on price/performance ratio.

> When telecommunications technology improves, there are two
> opposing effects on cities and face-to-face interactions:
> some relationships that used to be face-to-face will be done
> electronically (an intuitive substitution effect), and some
> individuals will choose to make more contacts, many of which
> result in face-to-face interactions. Our empirical work
> suggests that telecommunications may be a complement or at
> least not a strong substitute for cities and face-to-face
> interactions. We also present simple models of learning in

The human component cannot be left out from the equation: any
infrastructure is useless if it lacks acceptance.

> person, from a written source or over the phone and find that
> interactive communication dominates other forms of learning
> when ideas are complicated.