The Future of Digital Space and Place

As a keen Futurist, I’m interested in the impact of the Information age on how and where we live and work. And there are some interesting trends and contradictions. Distance doesn’t matter but place does. And place is becoming an increasingly important focus for IT security, especially as a consideration for authentication, authorization and espionage. Security professionals should track these trends because they will become an important factor in future strategy and architecture.

So I was very interested to read a feature on “The Rise of the Aerotropolis” sent to me by my good friend and fellow security evangelist, Shane Tully of Qantas. This article points to the modern City Airport as the emerging hub for future business. And it makes sense. Airports are getting bigger, more expensive and more ambitious. The world’s largest Aerotropolis – Dubai World Central – begins opening in stages this year. By the time it’s completed, it will have a permanent population of 750,000 at an estimated cost of $33 billion. In Amsterdam, office space next door to Schiphol Airport costs more per square foot than an open loft on one of the city’s picturesque 17th-century canals. The Aerotropolis is seen as the ultimate logic of globalization made flesh in the form of cities. Because customers on the far side of the world sometimes matter more than those next door. And distance costs time and money. The Aerotropolis is seen to represent the physical complement the digital world. And the whole is intended to be “something altogether different than the sum of its parts”.

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by airports. They can be exciting or frustrating places to be. Back in the 70s I had a friend at Cass Business School who spent a lot of his free time hanging out at Heathrow, generally looking to score with air stewardesses. He eventually grew out of it. But they are still interesting places. As The Economist pointed out in their Christmas Edition, they can encapsulate the characteristics and progress of a developing country.

However, the focus of future business life is more than airports. In the 90s I used to have arguments with Professor Ian Angel of LSE about the limitations of City States as a business hub. (They’re vulnerable to WMD terrorist attacks for example.) I thought his ideas contained just a little too much wishful thinking.

I was more impressed with the ideas of William Mitchell, Dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, whom I met at a TTI Vanguard Conference several years ago. Back in 2000 he penned an interesting book called “e-topia” about the future of digital and physical spaces. Amongst other things, he examined trends in the future migration patterns of US business. Essentially they tend to follow in the footsteps of their knowledge workers. Cities are for young single people not technology companies. (“Sex brings cities alive.”) That’s why technology businesses have been progressively moving out of San Francisco to chase their middle-aged technology managers into the leafy suburbs. (The Open Group may be one of the remaining exceptions. I’m not sure they actually cater for twentysomethings.) In contrast, wealthy billionaires will tend to settle in pleasant ski resorts with good airplane connections. That’s one reason I’m pleased my village pub has a helicopter pad.

But what will happen in the UK? Will it be the same? I once put these ideas to a Professor of Logistics at Westminster University. It will not be same he pointed out, because of differences in planning processes amongst other things. So what might it will look like? Just more urban sprawl he replied…. Arghh…..