Over at First Things, I read the following:
Seven hundred billion minutes. That’s how much time Facebook’s 500 million active users spend on the site every month. 700,000,000,000 minutes. Let that one sink in for a moment. Every month we spend the equivalent of 1.3 million years on Facebook; the equivalent of nearly 18,000 lifetimes. More than half of us login every single day; we average 130 friends. And we spend vast amounts of time on there.
It’s funny that so much of the news on people spending time in cyberspace is considered unproductive. As somebody in the industry, we spend our careers competing for human attention. So for us this is all great news. Think about it from our perspective: time spent in cyberspace is essentially time spent reading and writing – well, even in it’s more primitive forms it is intellective work. It is time spent NOT driving cars. It is time spent NOT in dangerous streets where there might be crime. It is time spent not employing toxic chemicals, or risking physical injury. It is time spent using less and less energy as systems become more efficient.
So in my head there are several larger unfocused concepts gaining traction as I witness continued innovation in the IT industry and relative failure in automotive, heavy manufacturing and other 20th century styles of industrial production. This morning I was provoked by two tangential ideas. The first was that of Borkies. The second was the clumsy, secretive work being done by the Administration to take more American land off the market.
No Humans Allowed
Over at Malkin,
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today issued a Secretarial Order elevating the Office of the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the level of a directorate within BLM.
“This action reflects the growing importance of the 27-million acre National Landscape Conservation System to local economies, to the health of communities, and to the conservation of some of America’s greatest landscapes,” Salazar said at the National Landscape Conservation System Summit in Las Vegas. “The BLM plays a special role in protecting America’s great outdoors for the benefit of all Americans – for it is the national conservation lands that contain the forests and canyons that families love to explore, the backcountry where children learn to hunt and fish, and the places that tell the story of our history and our cultures. Each of these places within the National Landscape Conservation System holds special meaning to the American people and is an engine for jobs and economic growth in local communities.”
Well I tell you how I interpret that in the economic context of a government in midterm jeopardy of sovereign default, the government will buy up as much land as legally possible, slap a 'no humans allowed' sticker on it, with very specific provisions, and then sell out at ridiculous prices.
I may be bound to think rather cynical things of this Administration, but there are several things in particular are brought to mind. The first is how the shift in land use and rules has occurred over my lifetime. Once upon a time, there was just wilderness. Now there are very deliberate rules and regulations about exactly what you can and cannot do in these government owned and protected properties. It's called public land, but it's hella regulated. All those canyons and forests where we might hunt and fish.. well who says what we can hunt and fish and why? Are those the rules generated by hunters and fishermen or by conservationists? It goes without saying that there are a good deal more commonsense laws than a few in these protected areas, but the politics sustain ridiculous compromises at the macro level. Nothing illustrates this quite like the refusal of water conservationists to allow for market pricing of scarce water resources due to legislative frameworks forged in the 19th century. NLCS is under suspicion. It's a big deal.
It seems to me that Landscape Conservation means no development. It means hiking and fishing Disneylands in perpetuity, not homesteading and low rent housing, not energy production, and if any pol would dare allow for housing, it would only be after interminable subjective environmental impact studies. We know this - it's the environmentalist status quo. "Engine for jobs and economic growth in local communities" is just a lie.
The Wild West is still fairly wild. There are places where land could be cheap if you were legally entitled to buy it. Much of the place where the government owns large plots are out here in the Western States. Nevada is most noticeable on Malkin's map. But who wants to live in the Nevada desert? So what if it's all government land? Well, in my larger Borkies story, I imagined some ecological disaster in which an ocean borne virus infected millions with a fairly severe flu. The point of that was to effect a tipping point in real estate value such that desert environments became more valuable than beachfront property.
What's much more likely than some farcical aquatic paranoia or H1N1 'Fish' virus is the changing way that upscale populations view their amenities and lead lives worthy of emulations - at least economically speaking. One only has to look at affluent American teens today to know that they care more about being electronically connected than developing a sense of geography. Exploring cyberspace is more interesting than floating down rivers with Jim. Is a house a good house? That depends on bandwidth and connectivity.
So why should we build the cities of the future near the coasts, or on riverbanks? The meaning of major transportation hub is changing as more and more human activity is engaged via computer communication networks. Why land is affordable has everything to do how it is expected to be used. If it sounds outrageous to you to see real-estate prices changes to make desert property more valuable than beachfront property, think about how our economy has been transformed by outsourcing and offshoring. The cheap property and cheaper economy in India and China has evaporated many domestic industries via improvements in logistic and telecommunications. Proximity is redefined.
So where do you live, and why is your real-estate valuable? What economies does it sustain?
I predict a day coming soon when people don't care so much about what car you drive, but what networks you belong to and what kind of device you sit on the table in front of you at the meetup. What do you see in a post-transportation economy?