Flat vs. spiky

Two of the patron saints of Creativille seem to be engaged in an intellectual debate, as Richard Florida's recent piece in the Atlantic Monthly is seen as a direct response to the notion of a "flat world" as posited by Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat. Florida says the world is actually "spiky," with a handy (and frankly, pretty cool looking) set of maps that show population centers around the world spiking up to reflect patent filings, population, light emissions and scientific citations. It's an interesting companion to Friedman's work, and it has drawn criticism from Chris Anderson at the Long Tail, who says Florida misses the point by being a "hitist," looking only for the places where big things happen, and ignoring the many other places where small but wonderful things occur. People can do almost anything anywere, he writes, and he says the interesting things happen "in the noise below the spikes."

But aren't both Florida and Friedman right? Friedman's flat world is one in which a talented person can do anything they want; they no longer need to come to the U.S. to create software, design computers, create movies, etc. But Florida's spiky world shows that while this is true, people still migrate to population centers where they find the kind of lifestyle they want, and the resources they need, to do so. The difference is that now you can do this in Bangalore just as surely as you can in New York or Los Angeles.

Perhaps I'm over-simplifying, but it seems that the argument here is over the fine points, while the broader views of Florida and Friedman are actually pretty well aligned.


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