According to this infographic, 74% of creatives live in a city.
If you work 9-5, the answer’s obvious. But what about the increasing number of us who freelance?
Perusing the webs, you’ll find a ton of articles on which cities creatives should live in, but not many on why it’s still necessary for us to live in cities at all. Which is odd: it’s been a common question since the advent of the internet.
As you probably know, there’s already a thriving community of “digital nomads,” freelancers who make their living from their laptops while traveling abroad. Nomadlist.com and the Digital Nomad subreddit can take you through the basics. But most of them don’t make the leap until they already have enough steady clients to ensure they won’t have to scramble for work after they leave.
So, in order to answer this question, you have to ask a different one: How important are in-person meetings to getting those clients?
That depends a lot on your field. For example, photographers, journalists, and people in the ad industry will usually find they have a lot of in-person meetings. Other types of artists and designers, writers, and people who work in the harder tech fields usually won’t.
The consensus seems to be that beginners just need to live as cheaply as possible until they’ve developed their talents enough to land the top jobs. If you can find cheap place in a big city, by all means go for it, but if not, stay where you can get by on pennies while you develop your skills to the point where you’re ready to compete for the NYC or SF gigs. Then move there.
But what about the social benefits of city life?
A couple years ago, the MacArthur Fellowship compared where their 897 grant recipients were born to where they lived at the time of their award. It found that 8 out of ten of them—almost three times the normal population’s rate—lived outside the state where they were born. Predictably, their most common migration destinations were California and New York. Money was part of the reason, but they also found that “talent is attracted to cultural amenities and … openness to diversity.” They cite a study by social psychologists Adam Galinsky and William Maddux that found that living abroad makes you more creative: in short, being exposed to new cultures gives you new ideas.
Smithsonian Magazine illustrates the concept with the example of Building 20, a mixed-use building at M.I.T. that hosted classes ranging from nuclear science to sound engineering, computing, and linguistics. As a result of all those disparate students and teachers meeting and talking, the building became the birthplace of computer games and hacking, high-speed photography, and the microwave.
But can the same thing be accomplished on the internet?
This is just my opinion, but not to the extent that it can in real life, because the internet lends itself to conformism. We want to talk with similar people about subjects we already enjoy, and if they start saying things we don’t like, one click and they’re gone.
Someone in your design forum keeps going off topic? Report. Facebook friend keeps giving you unwarranted advice? Delete. Some rando won’t stop asking you to help them with a creative project you have no interest in? Block.
But that eliminates all that cross-pollination. In real life, maybe that straying conversation would have led you to a way to sort out your relationship problems, leaving you more time to put into your business. That advice could have led to a career epiphany five years from now. That person might have continued to pester you until you eventually broke down, only for their project to attract your next best client.
This doesn’t mean you have to live in a city, of course, but cities have the most opportunities for that kind of thing.
Where do you live, and why? Leave us a comment.