Not often do I think of myself as creative or innovative — I admit that the weekly inventory of weird search queries has caught on quite well, but these guys were there first — but on those rare occasions when I think I've done something New and Improved, it's seldom because of an encounter with J. Random Commuter.

There are, you may be sure, those who will argue to the contrary:

"The reality in this new era is that innovation come from opportunities to have face-to-face conversations to stimulate one another with new ideas. But by separating ourselves from that experience so we can live in our suburban house, get in our car, go to the office, then go back again and never encounter anybody, what you prevent is the unexpected experience that might get you to think about something in a new way."

That's Thomas Fisher, dean of the University of Minnesota School of Design, as quoted by James Lileks, and Lileks can't make head or tail of it either:

Forgive me for being thick, but what in the name of Corbu is he talking about? Is he really suggesting that a society's intellectual vitality is dependent on everyone sitting in the same light-rail train car having face-to-face conversations? What if I want to tune everyone out with, say, an iPod? What if I choose to read a book on the way in? Will the Design Paradigm Reassessment Police walk up and down the aisles to make sure no one is lost in some private reverie when they could — nay, should — be talking to someone else for their daily New Stimulating Idea? Apparently that's the highest organizing principle for a society, at least when it comes to transportation.

So there's no one at the office, then. So there's nothing on the radio that might stimulate new ideas or new thinking. There's nothing to be found in the skyways when you walk out for lunch. The only people who matter, inasmuch as they are the ones who will stimulate new ideas when you talk to them (face to face, which is necessary) are people on the bus. And if the bus moves slowly, because it's better to have an urban experience than rush home to your solipsistic cocoon, well, then you've more time to marinate in the wondrous daily interchange with other people.

That can't happen in the suburbs. Oh, no. Everyone in the suburbs is the same.

I detect just the faintest hint of deflection on the old Sarcasm Meter (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.) But Dr Fisher isn't quite through yet:

"Look at the city. We started to separate people from their workplace and impose this dreadful ordeal of commuting back and forth."

Ordeal, indeed. Possibly even dreadful. Or maybe not. Lileks again:

We started? Did we finish? The only people who were not separated from their workplace were the ones who lived in a room above the store. And even that wasn't the dominant model. Even Scrooge was separated from his workplace. In the 1920s people commuted to work downtown or in the factories; they either drove — boo, hiss — or more likely took the streetcar system. If you want "a dreadful ordeal," try waiting every day in the rain or