Why we still need physical bases in a digital world

Did you know that the Larrakia people from the Darwin region of the Northern Territory had well-established trading routes across Asia and Australia hundreds of years before European settlement?

Likewise, the Yolngu people from the Arnhem Land region were known to visit the Makassan people from Sulawesi in Indonesia and vice versa for generations. They shared knowledge, learned each other’s languages and had families together. Yet, each group retained their strong sense of place and home. They knew their history and constantly reinforced their deep connection to their own country through storytelling (and still do to this day).

Why do we choose to collaborate and share spaces?

The growth of the internet has led many to believe it would eliminate the need for us to have a permanent base for anything. We can work, study, and socialise with others anywhere at any time just by clicking on a device. We can even be digital nomads, yet we still choose to do at least some activities in shared spaces. Why?

Jacyl Shaw argues we have always come together in specific locations to collaborate and we will continue to do so. Jacyl is the Digital Innovation Lead at global engineering firm GHD, where she leads the engagement strategies for current and prospective partners in the community, government and industry. In her presentation Miles Davis, Autonomous Cars and the Adjacent Possible, part of Florence Guild’s speaker series, ‘The Art of Focus’, Jacyl noted that today’s knowledge sector needs roughly a 1.6-kilometre radius designed for people to walk freely from space to space and come together in different ways. Early industrial parks and the like were designed with segregated areas and little or no integrated space, but we now know that setups like this stifle innovation so they are slowly being replaced or retrofitted.

Is there a need to meet face-to-face?

There’s nothing quite like getting family and friends for events big and small. Could you imagine a wedding with every guest (and possibly even the couple and their bridal party) attending via a video linkup from different locations? The dance floor would be pretty empty, wouldn’t it?

People that meet on LinkedIn still often arrange to meet in person before committing to any shared venture. Businesses bring people together for workshops and conferences. Hobbyists, artists, support groups and others try to meet regularly to make meaningful connections.

What happens when we come together and collaborate?

Place matters for collaboration. Complex ideas need proximity so that people can have bump encounters that lead to big things and can eye-ball each other to help generate trust. Communication becomes richer as we utilise body language and tones of voice to convey nuances and emotions.

We need to see, hear and touch each other. To shake hands. To laugh together. To wine and dine together. And, of course, to share experiences together.

Is diversity key for successful collaboration?

As Jacyl states, diversity is also a key ingredient for successful collaboration. She explains that where savannahs and forests meet, the space where they merge has a very high diversity of new life forms. Lots of different disciplines coming together has a similar effect. Jacyl describes this as ‘the adjacent possible’ or ‘the edge effect’.

Darwin is an excellent example of how the edge effect works. It exists at the confluence of ocean and land and it is simultaneously remote from the southern cities of Australia and very close to Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries. As the region has residents from over 70 different nationalities, it is a melting pot of culture and cuisines.

Today, Darwin also boasts a booming tech industry and is a base for many regional headquarters as businesses recognise the value of the trade and communication pathways established in the area many centuries ago. This reinforces the argument that we need to maintain non-tech connections and physical place in a digital world.

The idea is backed up by Richard Florida in his article for CityLab How Twitter Proves That Place Matters.

“Twitter doesn’t replace the networks that exist in the real world—it reinforces them and makes them stronger. Rather than freeing us from place … the Internet appears to enhance and even expand its role.”

No matter how well we design our physical spaces, though, we must never forget that people are our strength. People make the place.

This episode forms part of our 2018 series narrative, ‘The Art of Focus’ which is based on the premise that, in an information-dense society, our attention resources have become depleted. The series’ speakers will help us identify and explore the areas in our lives where we may need to regain focus, increase our self-awareness and improve how we interact with those around us.

If you’d like to hear more of Jacyl Shaw’s recorded conversation, Miles Davis, Autonomous Cars and the Adjacent Possible, and learn how you can make changes like this in your life, tune in to episode 27 of our podcast series ‘The Art of Focus’. You can also keep up to date with conversations with other thought leaders by subscribing to our podcast on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.

For more information on our collaborative coworking spaces and speaker conversations in Sydney and Melbourne please click here or contact us.