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Monday, March 28, 2011

Presence makes the heart grow fonder?

Making my way through Edward Glaeser's thrilling new book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (Penguin 2011).  Glaeser points us to 19th century English economist, Wm. Stanley Jevons, whose noted the paradox that efficiency improvements lead to more, rather than less, consumption (fuel efficient cars end up consuming more gas, and the like).  In a neat twist, Glaesar applies insight to info technology, noting as a "complementarity corollary" that greater improvements in info technology increase demand for face-to-face contact.

This seems intriguingly true at the level of ordinary academic conferences and meetings.  Rise of SSRN and easy access to recently published research generates enthusiasm to get together (*every AALS now brings invites to blogger happy hours, for instance).  More interesting to me is whether and to what extent this corollary extends to intra-faculty interactions.  Is there anything to the much-remarked fear that info technology will crowd out faculty socialization and face-to-face exchange of ideas, information, and other spillover benefits associated with density?  My anecdotal sense is that the opposite is true.  As Jevins-Glaesar hypothesis, peer-to-peer interactions have grown as better info technology, and ready access to eclectic, extensive research "has made the world more information intensive, which in turn has made knowledge more valuable than ever, and that has increased the value of learning from other people in cities" (Gleaser at 38).  Substitute faculties for cities, and I believe the insight is right on.

One can be Panglossian about this picture, of course.  Info overload competes with schmoozing and adventitious collegiality.  But, still and all, my impression is that both the quality and calibre of faculty discussion in workshops and other informal settings and also the breadth of conversations over professional matters has been steadily improving.

A testable hypothesis is that is at least loosely related to the following:  There is more awareness of what our colleagues are up as a result of these human interactions and, therefore, more citations to faculty working in the same areas (supposing, perhaps implausibly, that one can control for the "sucking up" phenomenon).


Posted by dan rodriguez on March 28, 2011 at 09:46 AM in Information and Technology, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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This seems right (and a nice turn inward using the Glaeser/agglomeration framework). I wasn't faculty in a pre-ssrn era, but random papers found on ssrn are a pretty common topic of discussion around here, both by email and over lunch.

Your question ties closely to the patent-citation literature (discussed in the book, I think) on how work from the same metro area is cited at a far higher rate, both across industries and inside them. I suspect that ssrn and other technologies haven't had much effect on citation inside fields (people, i assume, were always keeping up with topics close to their research) but has had an effect on citation across fields.

Posted by: D.Schleicher | Mar 30, 2011 8:36:51 AM

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