A Communications Theory of Urban Growth

By Richard L. Meier; Resources for the Future | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
PRIORITIES FOR FURTHER STUDY

Any truly constructive essay on theory manages to get more elephants under the tent than its predecessors, but then points up the new problems that arise when they are brought into the act. The new problems are obviously of a different class, often of a different level of abstraction, and usually require the formulation of new theories. Governments lurch from one political crisis to the next, but scientists stagger from one intellectual problem to the next. Thus the outcome of nine chapters aimed at comprehending communications patterns in urban growth from almost as many standpoints can only be a new set of puzzles that challenge the investigator. Similarly a series of proposals for practical studies should be stimulated if the theory has been at all fruitful.

Perhaps the best strategy at this point is to discuss the practical studies that would appear to yield the highest payoffs. Some of them contribute to the theoretical questions that have been posed.

The imminence of the information input overload phenomenon for whole cities and the consequences of communications stress suggest that the entire question be thoroughly researched. Is the interference between transactions a fundamental source of stress, or is the quantity of information transmitted a more important factor? Much of the time would not stress be attributable to a sense of responsibility, since efforts toward being responsible demand repeated internal checking in order to avoid the kind of mistakes that may harm oneself or others? Then the factor to be taken into account is the speed of the presentation and disposal of images within the mind. What amount of uninterrupted cogitation is required before a decision of given magnitude can be properly rendered? The tendency to compartment, or subdivide, responsibility increases the tolerance to high communications rates. These questions can be studied in a variety of contexts, ranging from assembly lines to executive offices, where the conclusions arrived at are immediately relevant to the resolution of the overload problem, as well as in the laboratory where appropriate controls can be installed which permit measurements with greater precision.

What adjustments need to be made in the educational system? The leaders in the development of the schools have always had as their object the guidance of the student into a culturally rich, active, and responsible public life. If the new style of urban life will press individuals up to their communications capacity rather frequently, it seems reasonable that the schools should prepare the student for this eventuality. Should he not be encouraged to acquire experience of this sort and experiment early in life with various defenses against communications overload?

The notion of privacy and its uses has suddenly been given new significance by this theory. Some methods of retiring from the communications melee are undoubtedly less costly to society than others. What is the place of outdoor recreation and open space in the withdrawal from social contact? How is the strain on the individual dissipated when the various forms of privacy are exploited? Improved observational techniques are sorely needed for exploring the boundary that separates public activities

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