Water-powered networks you say? Whatever next?

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Water has always played a big part in global modernisation. Cities like Utrecht in the Netherlands are located at key points of connectivity networks on the inland waterways of Europe.

In a paper[1] by Ortz-ospina and Roser, they note that trade within Europe was very important in the 'first wave of globalisation' with the ‘Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century stand(ing) out exceptionally’.

The global economy is all at sea

As trade started to become truly global, the importance of inland connectivity took second place to connectivity by sea. Economic power quickly shifted to coastal cities and places like Amsterdam became the 17th century centre of global integration.

The Dutch East India Company (considered by many to be the first major, modern global corporation) was head-quartered in Amsterdam and spices were one of the most highly prized commodities transported by global trade networks.

And then data spiced-up our lives

Time moves on, however, and data is now traded like spices once were. As a McKinsey[2] report in 2016 stated: ‘50% of the world’s traded services are already digitized and approximately 12% of the world’s global goods trade is conducted via international e-commerce.’

The recent announcement by Netflix[3] that they’ve acquired the movie rights to Michael Lewis’ book ‘Flash Boys’ reminds me of that fantastic example of modern connectivity meeting the new commodity. The book describes financial trading companies’ battling-it-out to get the shortest optical fibre connection to the New York stock exchange. This ‘frantic competition for nanoseconds’ shows how connectivity (optical fibre rather than maritime routes) and commodities (financial data rather than cinnamon) have shifted in our digital age.

‘Water-powered’ connectivity is still really important to cities like Utrecht and this has been supplemented, since the 17th century, with rail and road infrastructure. It’s fascinating to consider the history of connectivity and how, over time, this forces a shift in the dominance of city ‘nodes’ like Utrecht. And how what’s being connected to can have its value change based on changing market demand and shifts in technology.

I’m going to get myself connected

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[1] https://ourworldindata.org/international-trade

[2] Digital globalization: The new era of global flows, McKinsey Global Institute, March 2016.

[3] Michael Lewis’ Wall Street Movie ‘Flash Boys’ Moves to Netflix, Variety, May 2018


Steve Coakley