Thursday, August 12, 2010

Trade Off #7: Proximity vs Scale

In many walks of life, we face incentives to either disperse our resources among a large set of options or to focus our resources in one area. Dispersion increases our proximity to each of the options but by focusing in one area we often achieve benefits due to scale. Examples:
  • Multinational businesses can either produce their products close to customers and minimize transport costs, or they can produce their products in a central location that maximizes economies of scale. (see here)
  • One paradox of doing updating our statuses and chronicling our thoughts on the internet: it scales well in that we can speak to nearly everyone, but at the same time we end up speaking to nobody in particular. In potentially reaching the masses, we inevitably sacrifice some of our proximity to others. (see here)
  • In biology, cells can produce proteins at a central, diffuse location that minimizes the energy spent transporting ribosomes RNA along the cytoskeleton, or they can produce proteins locally and maximize the probability that the protein ends up where it can interact fruitfully with other cellular components. (see here)
  • In perception, one can pay attention to either the forest as a whole or look at individual trees, but not both at the same time. This generalizes to difficulties in understanding multiple levels of a hierarchy with just one approach. (see here)
I don't know how to precisely state this and I'm not even sure if these concepts all even fit with one another. So I welcome any suggestions you may have.

(photo credit: Jonathon)