For most of human history, people worked where they lived. They taught their kids and the kids of their neighbors. They plowed shared lands, traded with each other, and looked after one another.
That all changed around 1800. Improved health, shifting social norms (like marrying later in life), better transportation, and industrialization allowed or caused people to explore alternatives.
People started moving en-masse from where they were born and raised to where they could find work or, to a lesser extent, happiness. This movement created economic cities – London's population doubled between 1800 and 1850 – that still exist today.
Generations of industrialization created enormous wealth and economic mobility, but it also did something to non-industrial communities. It made them less stable. As people left home – either to escape or explore – fewer came back. Over generations, this cycle left once vibrant towns depleted.
Communities are central to the human experience. Like Yunger's Tribe, communities raise us, teach us, protect us, heal us, support us, and backstop us. When people leave, the community becomes weaker.
Most people my age grew up assuming that, after college, our location was pegged to our work. If you wanted to work in finance, you had to be in New York; technology would put you in Silicon Valley; and movies would put you in LA. We thought the alternative – going home – meant limiting our opportunities and capping our ambitions. We traded our real communities for perceived opportunities.
The emergence of remote work, even for top Silicon Valley firms, is a compelling social and economic shift. For the first time in the era of modern work, it is possible for knowledge workers to live and work anywhere at scale. Communities no longer need to lose their young people.
At this point in my life, the idea of investing – personally and professionally – in my (adopted) community is very, very appealing. The idea of not having to physical move long distances – to someone else's community – for work is exciting. The idea of being able to generate professional value for my neighbors is inspiring.
Like most big social and economic shifts, this one will be slow until it is fast. At some point, it will transform how we live and work.
Young people should explore the world. They should experience and learn from it.
But wouldn't it be great if they could, as thriving professionals, bring those experiences back to the communities that raised them?