This site is a place for me to share ideas and showcase material that stems from my current book project, Brain Magnet, which is under contract with Columbia University Press for its Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism series. Many things that will not end up in the book will instead live here, including short essays, photos, and interviews.
For years I have been intrigued by the idea of the “knowledge economy” — the phrase is so often used that it’s a cliché, but it’s one that people take very seriously indeed. (Barely a day passes by when someone on NPR doesn’t say “in today’s knowledge-based economy… yada yada…”) I wanted to know how this conventional wisdom came to be, and why it is almost universally taken for granted. Is it an accurate or helpful description of our contemporary capitalism?
To answer these questions, I decided to focus on a place that was very consciously, very deliberately designed as a space for a new kind of high-tech economy, beginning in the 1950s: North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park. In the process of telling RTP’s story, I look not only at the park as a highly intentional and controlled vision of an environment that would nurture intellectual work, but also a series of related and nearby spaces — the National Humanities Center, the suburbs of Parkwood and Cary, the campus of the SAS Institute, and downtown Durham — as setpieces of a new, knowledge-driven economy.