The World is Just Gonna Get Weirder: Ben Hammersley on the Future of Cities and Networked Society

We interviewed Ben Hammersley this weekend as part of an upcoming Transatlantic Network 2020 event at the British Council Berlin. Incidentally, Ben was the moderator at this past weekend’s Cognitive Cities conference.

You can join the conversation we’ve started with Ben on Twitter (#TN2020) or Quora:

What will make living in a city worthwhile in the future?
What new business opportunities will arise from the networked city?
Why are cities becoming more important than countries?
How can we overcome the generation gap in understanding of networked society?

4 Responses

  1. You are saying that cities are where civilization happens. And this seems to be stated as a very positive thing.
    Not so long ago English people (and Spanish and some other too) travel to other countries bringing -Civilization-. Some time after we realized that they also brought Apartheid, create the third worlds, slavery, robed them from their goods, etc. Is this -civilization- the one that you are celebrating?
    I hope that we do not fall again in the belief that our Civilization is better than the ones from others.

    You also mention that country side is… Green. Well yes, thanks!! Because if we did not have green, we would not be alive, or we would have to live in bubbles of artificial air in our lovely cities!

    I wanted to quote here some comments from Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt in an article (Cities as Complex Systems by Howard Silverman)

    There is, of course, a very good reason that animals slow down with size: All that mass requires energy. But the superlinear growth of cities comes with no such inherent constraints. Instead, the urban equations predict a world of ever-increasing resource consumption, as the expansion of cities fuels the expansion of economies. West illustrates the problem by translating human life into watts. “A human being at rest runs on 90 watts,” he says. “That’s how much power you need just to lie down. And if you’re a hunter-gatherer and you live in the Amazon, you’ll need about 250 watts. That’s how much energy it takes to run about and find food. So how much energy does our lifestyle [in America] require? Well, when you add up all our calories and then you add up the energy needed to run the computer and the air-conditioner, you get an incredibly large number, somewhere around 11,000 watts. Now you can ask yourself: What kind of animal requires 11,000 watts to live? And what you find is that we have created a lifestyle where we need more watts than a blue whale. We require more energy than the biggest animal that has ever existed. That is why our lifestyle is unsustainable. We can’t have seven billion blue whales on this planet. It’s not even clear that we can afford to have 300 million blue whales.”

    A lot of people is talking about how Cities are the best place for human beings, one of the reasons stated is the innovation that takes places once people gather together. But most people do not look at the negative sides. For West and Bettencourt everything related with the social network increases at the same percentage. That means that there is more innovation, but also more challenges to solve. Then the question is “Are cities the only solution to the problem of cities?”

    Totally agree with you that there is a big change to come, a change that some people doesn’t understand. I am so glad to see how things like Egypt situation are happening. But i hope is not just about computer technology :) I think there is something more.
    I specially like your last sentence, the pain isn’t coming from the change, the pain is from the struggling against the change. It is a big change, lets be open to see what cool -and weird- things are coming!

    1. Thanks for those responses Pedro. I would agree with you that’s really important to not devalue other non-western civilizations which do not have cities. It’s amazing how much energy is wasted by our current “lifestyles” and it’s a problem that need solving urgently. My perspective is that solar energy would be the most important step in the right direction. It would be interesting to see Ben respond to your remarks.

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