(Note: The idea I am presenting - like all ideas - is meant to fuel discussion and provoke thought. It is not being presented as a theory, but rather, as simply a hypothesis. Enjoy)
Here is a simple hypothesis I came up with that can serve as fuel for thought.
The more widespread the Internet becomes, the less necessary cities become. The Internet drastically diminishes the advantages that urban living once provided, while the disadvantages of urban living remain the same. Thus, the 21st may be poised to see a Great Rural Migration.
The Internet plugs anybody who has access to it into the global economy -- into a world of global commerce and communication, information and education. The Internet makes it possible -- in theory -- for anybody anywhere to operate as if he or she is at the center of the globalized world -- an advantage once limited only to people who lived in major metropolitan areas.
At least that is the conclusion that I came to earlier this year. The past February, with laptop in hand, I left Los Angeles and spent several months living a simpler life in Kentucky. On a beautiful farm overlooking the foothills of the Appallachians, I drank water straight from a natural mineral water spring. I grew my own organic produce. I meditated to the sunrise each morning, took hikes along a beautiful mountain stream and found a peace in lifestyle and spirit that I had never known before. All the while, I found that peace -- that happiness -- without unplugging from the world that I left behind. From a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, I still had access to the Internet. I still conducted business. And I still was able to research and communicate.
In fact, it was my access to the Internet that made my life in the wilderness so extraordinary. I wanted to route the water from the spring to the farmhouse -- so I learned how to engineer a rudimentary water system by researching the topic online. I wanted to build a treehouse -- so I looked up how to construct a treehouse online. I wanted to grow an organic garden -- so I went online and looked up which fruits and vegetables were native to Kentucky, and I learned how to grow them.
While I was out there, a thought crossed my mind: with Internet access now spreading to most rural areas, perhaps we won't need cities anymore. Think about it: cities were once a place people moved to in order to gain access to markets, people, institutions and trade. Cities were the center of the world. If you wanted to uplift your status, you had to go to the world. But today, the world comes to you.
Today, the Internet, to a great extent (though this is not a black and white statement), has diminished the benefits of urban living while the negative elements have either stayed the same or even been amplified. With that simple logic (advantages reduced, disadvantages remain the same), logic indicates that the popularity and populations of cities will diminish.
If the benefits of living in a city are diminished because the Internet brings access to the world to you wherever you are, then why deal with the high real estate prices, traffic, crime, pollution, and difficulty of living alongside millions of other people?
Real estate price are so cheap in many rural areas (like where I was in Kentucky), that it seems to me that intentional communities are far more likely to be the way of the future than unintentional communities. Communities based on common friendship, values and purpose are forming all over the world right now and the logic of intentional communities is unquestionable. Instead of living with a bunch of people you don't' know and who you possibly wouldn't want to know -- (and paying for it with your money, time and health), you can now live with people you choose to live with -- friends, family, people who share your values or interests -- in present-day rural areas without sacrificing very much.
At least that is what crossed my mind during my time in the solitude of the Kentucky wilderness. I enjoyed my experience there so much that I thought it would be incredible if my friends and family were to join. We could still run and start businesses. We could still have all the benefits of the globalized world. But we could reduce our exposure to the downside of urban living. We could build our own community at a fraction of the cost for each of us to own a house in an urban area. Then it occurred to me -- perhaps my sentiment is indicative of what is to become a defining trend of this century.
One million dollars in Los Angeles can't buy a three-thousand-square-foot home in the Hollywood Hills. Yet in Kentucky, for example, or most rural areas, it can buy hundreds of acres. If you combine the resources of 20, 30, or 100 individuals, the ability to transform a rural environment into a vision more aligned with your values, and or the values of your friends/contemporaries, is enormous.
In the 21st century, it seems to me that a great rural migration is inevitable. The Internet brings the benefits of urban living to rural environments while the disadvantages that come with urban living may be unaffected. Therefore, the utility of metropolitan environments seems to be declining, as the utility of rural living seems to be rising.
Anyways, it's just an idea.