13 Aug The Milkweed Effect: Disseminating Technology to New Regions
This week, I want to test a theory. In short, aspects of the economy and shifts in technology are conspiring to cause the migration of technology-centric and savvy professionals from traditional technology centers such as Silicon Valley and Boston to smaller communities and even remote locations. The resulting infusion into those areas of new blood, entrepreneurial mindset, technological know-how, and (potentially) new capital, will inspire a revival of many communities throughout the U.S. and abroad. And at that point, the information age will clearly be upon us.
Why is this going to happen and why now?
First, the technology reasons:
- Broadband access to the Internet has spread extremely quickly and there is no reason to believe that broadband access will not be readily available to even sparsely populated areas in the next two to three years, regardless of the build-out plans of major broadband providers. Take, for example, Bodega Bay, Calif., about an hour north of San Francisco. With a population of just 950, this fishing community is not a priority for any telco or cable company. Yet thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of a local small business, Bodega Bay residents have the option of high-speed, wireless Internet access at reasonable prices. This story is repeated again and again across the country.
- Cellular coverage continues to improve, and some remote areas actually have better coverage than urban communities. I owe it to a coast guard outpost, I’m certain, but my carrier provides better GSM cell coverage in Bodega Bay than in many parts of Silicon Valley.
- Essential applications are server-based and accessible from anywhere, assuming a secure connection and a Web browser or other appropriate client software.
- Teleconferencing systems have finally gotten good and inexpensive. Because of the economic value of time, these systems are often better than being there.
- The proliferation of robust and reliable mobile devices, from laptops to cell phones, provides a platform that enables access to networks (both people- and computer-based) no matter where you go.
Second, the economic drivers:
Unemployment has been vastly undercounted in technology centers where a great many professionals work independently as consultants and external service providers, and aren’t included in government unemployment rolls. These people are potentially nomadic by nature of their work, and they are seeking ways to maintain quality of lifestyle in a more affordable manner.
While incomes, investment portfolios, and 401(k) plans are in decline, housing prices have remained steady and astronomically high. Low interest rates keep the housing market healthy, yet some are beginning to wonder just how much longer this will last. The greatest asset of many individuals is their home. If home prices are at risk of a dramatic fall, now may be a good time to get that value out.
Competition among telcos and wireless carriers has caused significant deflation of communications costs. All-you-can-dial local and long-distance plans make remote communications very affordable.
So here’s the scenario that creates the migration from technology centers to more rural destinations, where that tech savvy takes hold and supports a next-generation evening of the distribution of technology resource and knowledge – The Milkweed Effect.
A professional consultant earning a six-figure income in Silicon Valley sells his or her million-dollar home, pays off the mortgage, and pockets enough profit to buy with cash an equal or better home in a smaller city in center-America. The family moves, the consultant works from a home office, and travels when necessary to engage with clients, and in a now-more-relaxed life works with local schools to leverage technology in the classroom, teaches entrepreneurialism at the community college, invests in a few local technology businesses, and in due time this sleepy town benefits from the infusion of intellectual and financial capital this professional has carried from Silicon Valley.
With little reason to stay in high-priced technology centers, and every benefit in moving to “fresh” locations, it’s a scenario that makes sense. And it is beginning to happen, not in droves, but in the one or two cases that make the point that such a life- and work-style change is possible, and makes a valuable contribution to communities distant from the technology centers.
Like a thousand small seeds blown from the milkweed pod, these new technology nomads will set down roots and grow in regions that provide quality-of-life benefits while enabling technology professionals to remain connected to their economic wellspring.
That’s my theory, anyway. I’d like to know what you think, and hear your stories that confirm or counter this view of the future. I welcome any and all feedback to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld’s DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the #1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row.
In addition to her work with print publications, Shipley has extensive experience in online publishing, having developed online content and communities on every major platform, including AOL and the Web. Before joining IDG, Shipley established a consulting practice to help Silicon Valley technology companies define their media strategies. Shipley is a frequent speaker at technology industry forums, and acts as an advisor to several startup ventures.
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