Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pittsburgh: Not So Special

Over at Burgh Diaspora, Jim Russell is dropping heavy hints about a forthcoming initiative about Pittsburgh-yet-to-come. Here are his posts yesterday (the "Pittsburgh Entrepreneur Network") and Tuesday ("Pittsburgh Connected"). My post last Monday titled "Pittsburgh 2.0" was in the same spirit, and it's connected to the same initiative. There's more to come.

Today I want to pick up and extend Pittsburgh 2.0. I'm inspired by this post at Rough Type by Nicholas Carr, a writer and analyst who first attracted broad attention a few years ago with a book punnishly titled, "Does IT Matter?" Nick always has something thought-provoking to say, and on Web 2.0 -- sociability technologies and Internet platforms -- he notes:

The problem with "Web 2.0," as a concept, is that it constrains innovation by perpetuating the assumption that the web is accessed through computing devices, whether PCs or smartphones or game consoles. As broadband, storage, and computing get ever cheaper, that assumption will be rendered obsolete. The internet won't be so much a destination as a feature, incorporated into all sorts of different goods in all sorts of different ways. The next great wave in internet innovation, in other words, won't be about creating sites on the World Wide Web; it will be about figuring out creative ways to deploy the capabilities of the World Wide Computer through both traditional and new physical products, with, from the user's point of view, "no computer or special software required."

What does this have to do with Pittsburgh and especially with Pittsburgh 2.0? I apply Nick Carr's insight metaphorically. I think and hope that the insight means this: A future Pittsburgh does not, should not, and cannot require that individuals and groups "plug in" to one specific model of how to live, work, and play "as a Pittsburgher." That applies to economics and business development, to social and community development, and to cultural institutions. Don't only look for ways to buy into the existing landscape. Build it yourself.

In other words, what I hear all the time, on this blog and elsewhere, is this question: Sure, I can move (back) to Pittsburgh, but how can I find the people that matter? The people who can give me (a job) (a social network) (financing) (a partner/spouse)? How can I meet "Pittsburgh," which people assume is already an established place and group? And which is -- one tends to assume -- a closed place, open only to those who plug in using the local "special (cultural) software."

Instead, how about asking: How can I build my Pittsburgh, or our Pittsburgh? That's Pittsburgh 2.0, one follows that Nick Carr's premise, one in which "no computer or special software is required." It's connected to the existing Pittsburgh, certainly, but not absolutely dependent on it or beholden to it.

Beyond the very partial answer that I gave last Monday, I have no easy answer to that question, that is, no easy way to build out a Pittsburgh 2.0. Study the successful Web 2.0 models and you'll see, however, that they do two things: One, they make it easy and easier to see the social network. You can find your fellow travelers, and you can contact them. Two, their technologies are porous. The network isn't self-determinable. In other words, you can connect inside the network or outside or both, virtually or V2V or F2F or some combination of those things. Connections are necessary, but they aren't sufficient. *Loose* connections and *less* control mean *more* room for what some sociologists call "play" (as in: play in the joints, not play with the toys), that is, enhanced probabilities of innovation, growth, and success.

In shorthand: Some of my best blogging experiences involve meeting people for lunch and dinner. Because you never know exactly where a post will lead.

1 comment:

Frank said...

As always, great post. I would like to offer my blog up as a place for people to imagine what their Pittsburgh 2.0 would look like, because, in essence, that is exactly what my partner and I are doing for ourselves:

The Blurgh About Page

Down the line, I want to include places for discussion, but until then, feel free to write send any ideas for what you'd like Pittsburgh 2.0 to be to you.