Does place (still) matter?

In an era when most sources of information (and probably knowledge) are available online any time in any place, why do we need to have physical presence in a specific area/university to conduct scientific research, especially when it does not require laboratory experiments? In other words, could a Marie Curie international research be completed by tele-collaboration with the “host” universities?

If we were in the early 1990's probably the answer would be positive. Indeed at that time, the enthusiasm with the first major breakthroughs in internet & communication technologies (ICTs), was translated into a boundless optimism about the prospect of an online revolution. At that time we dreamed about e-villages, tele-working, tele-commuting, and tele-... everything. Nearly twenty years later we realize that things have evolved quite differently than we thought. The population continues to move into urban areas, while the first reversion signs of urban sprawl trends are here. We should not forget that urban sprawl was expected to further increase with the expansion of ICTs. The paradox, however, is that those who prefer to live in more central areas are younger people who are much more familiar with ICTs. As for transport and the possibility for substitution of commuting by tele-commuting, it seems that we were not accurate in our initial 'optimistic' forecasts too (although research continues in this field...). According to Mokhtarian (2004) some of the reasons for not telecommuting include a need for the professional and social interaction of the workplace, risk aversion (fear of negative career impact), lack of self-discipline-and, importantly, the desire for mobility.

So, does place still matter in an increasingly virtual world? I think so… I believe that every place reflects the energy, daily practice, culture, ideas, philosophy and dreams of the people who use it. Therefore, when moving into another place you receive all these currents and to the extent that you want, you incorporate them. At UC Berkeley, I intensely experience that energy flows, which are reflected by all those involved in academic activities (students, graduates, cPhDs, Professors). The following mosaic of images, titles, and events is just a small sample of those experiences so far…

Mokhtarian, P. (2004). Reducing road congestion: a reality check - a comment. Transport Policy, 11 (2): 183–184. doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2004.01.004


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