Is geography destiny? A recentNew York Times article by Stanford's G. Pascal Zachary examines the issue but doesn't answer a more fundamental question.
Of course geography is destiny. It's why, despite the passage of time and trends, Los Angeles continues to drive entertainment, New York remains a financial hub, Germany still builds great cars. There's no guarantee such crucibles will go on forever, but they tend to endure because of the organic dynamism they engender.
The more crucial question is why these places emerge in the first place. Silicon Valley's a case in point. The transistor came out of Bell Labs a world away, in New Jersey. IBM, based in New York, and Texas Instruments were already big companies. A decade later, Jack Kilby came up with the integrated circuit at TI.
More recently, the idea for Netscape was hatched in Illinois. Yet the center of gravity for the Internet has been and continues to be south of Market Street in San Francisco, stretching down into the Valley.
So forget why existing centers of greatness persevere--what's the force that spawns them?
It's an intriguing question. Still, I doubt that knowing the answer would help us anticipate the next great centrifuge of creativity. It could be Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. You never really know.
In his article, Zachary had encouraging words for a nervous U.S. industry. "Americans naturally harbor many fears about losing their edge, especially with the nation mired in war, the dollar's value sliding and the health care system strained," he wrote. "Rivals, notably in India and China, see Silicon Valley's preeminent position as a prize that they will inevitably take. Yet they face an elusive foe. Every time Silicon Valley recovers from failure, it seems to grow more durable, almost in the same way a person becomes 'immune' to a disease after a brush with it."
I'm in China this week, covering the International IC-China conference and blogging about it at eetimes.com/blog/news. Presumably, there will be a lot to write about under the heading, "Geography as destiny."