Walking across London Bridge in the morning is to feel part of a truly connected and global city.
The sheer diversity of ethnicities and languages would make it difficult to say in which country this city lay.
Most buildings host coffee shops and restaurants bustling with people. Offices are increasingly occupied by small businesses with shared and open working spaces.
Many of these enterprises were unimaginable a decade ago; today’s workers are undertaking jobs and performing tasks that did not exist until very recently.
This is the future: confidently challenging, energetically disruptive, and all based on hyper-fast communication and the ability to manage data on a huge scale.
But is London really as connected as we would like to think?
The City Corporation estimates that over 500,000 people enter the Square Mile every day to work. But how many need to? What proportion of those commuters travel in order to sit in serried ranks of identical desks looking at screens, communicating with someone a few metres away in exactly the same way as they do with colleagues on another continent?
Is this connectedness? In our drive to make communication efficient, have we condemned the majority of our workforce to an isolated professional life, where their connectivity is mediated and controlled by algorithms and emails?
A connected world requires shared values and rules, mutual trust, and communication. The post-War years are meant to have provided us with all of the these. Trade deals, global institutions, and the internationalisation of the workplace through the mobility of people secured not just peace but growing prosperity.
Those countries that did not engage lost out and stagnated.
But shared global progress has stalled. Multilateral agreements, regulations, and standards are coming apart. They being replaced, occasionally, with bilateral deals, but more commonly with divergence and barriers.
We are entering a world in which all the tools of global business are focused on collaboration and connectivity, but where politics and international relations are going in the opposite direction.
And on an individual level too, connectivity is more important than ever. Both businesses and people across the UK need to be able to take advantage of new technologies and innovations to help themselves and drive economic growth, but there is a danger that the digital revolution risks leaving some people behind.
This idea is so important that the current lord mayor has chosen it as the theme for his year in office. He has repeated this message around the world to emphasise the role that London can and must play in leading global change, as well as entreating businesses to ensure that their workforces are not becoming isolated.
In these fast-moving and uncertain times, there are some key questions which businesses, policymakers and individuals alike must confront.
Are our connected cities swimming against a worldwide tide of constructing barriers?
If connectivity is to be at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution and the engine for the twenty-first century, how does London fight against the walls being thrown up by demands for sovereignty and security?
And has the digital revolution genuinely liberated people within the workplace, or are connected businesses really just full of isolated and lonely people?
These are questions to ponder next time you cross London Bridge and see the city rising up before you. Now it’s time to take the conversation further.
The Financial Services Group of Livery Companies is hosting a panel discussion on this theme on 9 October, chaired by City A.M. Editor Christian May.
Main image credit: Getty