Since the industrial revolution, humanity has flocked to the cities, where jobs are plentiful and centralized services make inhabitants' lives easier. However, technology is gradually beginning to reverse this trend. People who have always dreamed of escaping the city for the country life, but who have been held back by a lack of employment opportunities in rural areas, are starting to find that the transition is possible due to recent advances in technology.
Continuing improvements in communications technologies are making physical location less important when it comes to conducting business. Businesses now operate on a global playing field; for example, a head office in New York can easily communicate with employees in remote locations by using online communication solutions. Modern cloud computing platforms allow documents to be hosted in an online workspace, where they can be edited by a team of employees from anywhere in the world. Colleagues can also hold meetings online using web conferencing software. With the demand for this kind of technology growing all the time, online workspaces are likely to become increasingly easy to use and better at encouraging communication and teamwork.
Traditionally, businesses in America and Europe have outsourced work to Asia to save costs. However, a new phrase has emerged in recent years: rural sourcing. Businesses are taking advantage of the lower living costs in small and medium-sized American towns by having staff based in these areas. Rural workers are able to accept lower pay packages than employees based in the city, and overheads are also lower as employees can either work from home or in local offices that are far cheaper to rent than urban office space.
One company that is making a name for itself by facilitating rural sourcing is Rural Sourcing. Businesses can cheaply outsource their IT tasks to Rural Sourcing's team of IT professionals based in the small town of Jonesboro, Arkansas. The company is setting up further small bases of staff in small towns where employment is otherwise hard to come by. The idea is to recruit students graduating from local colleges and universities, stopping the traditional brain drain from rural America to the big cities.
A study by researchers at the University of Kansas shows that de-urbanization is gaining momentum. An analysis of data provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) showed that people are moving from big cities of more than 4 million people to smaller cities with populations of 1 or 2 million. The study, which was published in 2009, looked at data collected during the last decade.
One of the bonuses of living in a city used to be proximity to shops and services. However, now that consumers can buy almost everything they need online and have it delivered to their doors, do they still need to congregate in cities? As improvements in infrastructure make rural living more convenient, people are likely to decide that the benefits of living in the country - clean air, peace and quiet, and wide open spaces - outweigh the attraction of the bright city lights.
Thanks to technology, it will soon be possible to earn a living from anywhere in the world, so long as there is access to the Internet. With information travelling at the speed of light, physical distances shrink into insignificance. As virtual workspaces develop further, a colleague on the opposite side of the country will feel no more distant than the worker in the next cubicle. Combined with the many attractions of rural environments, these technological breakthroughs could soon lead to a mass exodus of people from the world's major cities. De-urbanization looks set to be an important demographic trend in the 21st century.
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Press release about the research carried out at the University of Kansas: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/uok-su091609.php