4 Min Read

Can Technology Restore Our Sense of Community?

When we choose to communicate with avatars over our neighbours, hyper-connectivity destroys our communities. So, we must look to technology to save it.

Who is your community? What does community mean to you? You could describe a group of people who share similar characteristics or perspectives, or a collective of individuals who are linked together with some sort of geographical or social tie. You could name it as a nation state, a military force, a religious group — a business, school or village. Whether hierarchal and structured or open and democratic, successful communities can nurture, teach and bring context to our lives.

In the Babemba tribe of Zambia, Southern Africa, when someone commits a crime or wrongs another, they’re not alienated or shamed. Instead, the whole village holds a gathering and surrounds them. One by one, members of the tribe recount their greatest strengths, achievements and good deeds, and once everyone has offered their love and forgiveness, they’re embraced and welcomed back into the fold. The Babemba practice ‘positive punishment’ to strengthen their community bonds, and as a result they rarely have need for the ritual. There are important lessons in the communication of intention and understanding that can be taken from this approach.

A community can instil a sense of belonging or provide a supportive network to learn from and, hopefully, rely upon. They can bring solace and they can save us — and yet modern life places so little emphasis on its importance. We are dangerously connected to distraction, with a world of products, people and information at our fingertips and on demand. The mass adoption of smart phones has changed our lives dramatically in the past decade or so, and younger generations are growing up in a fragmented online society. Our individual paths and moral codes are less clear, and our support networks seem to be dissolving.

When technology that does not consider communal success is applied by the masses, it has the power to divide. China, for example, has implemented a social credit system — with incentives or freedom restrictions for good or antisocial behaviour — in an attempt to regulate individual business and citizen conduct. When the State Council introduced the scheme in 2014, they declared an intention to “…allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to make a single step” (Black Mirror? Probably). If surveillance technology of this kind becomes the global norm we may all be in danger of losing our liberty, and it will only serve to segregate societies.

For societies to flourish, we must instead invest in innovating our support systems. Successful future technologies that consider evolution, human needs and happiness can help us to interconnect in a new way. Society is evolving fast, but we can look to historical communities and integrate successful societal codes and structures into new technologies. We can find strength with this new-found interconnectivity and utilise it to bind us.

There may be no greater way to bridge divides than through the practical application of technology, which can deliver instant support and education to those who previously would not have had access. Globalisation may have strengthened world economies, but there is still a huge economic disparity between the world’s wealthiest communities and a vast majority of the less privileged. In an era of divided wealth, divided governments and political unrest — technology can be utilised to help people communicate, educate, share ideas and build coalitions. It can teach us simply how to reach out to our neighbours. Digital communication or learning platforms — such as Eneza and Fuse Universal’s new ways to deliver democratised, scalable education to developing countries, or On Purpose’s platform for social change — can provide equal opportunity for all. Through new technology, we can help people to understand their own place in society, assess their own strengths and bring insightful clarity to their decisions.

More and more people around the world are connected via smartphones or personal computers and they’re looking to online networks for news and exciting ways to create change. Tech innovation has given global activism, for example, a new lifeblood. Organisations, such as RagTag, are utilising technology to amplify grass-root movement messaging, and the recent Extinction Rebellion climate protests in central London were scaled and co-ordinated primarily through social media. Technology is now key to re-establishing community and connection in the right way. It can support and empower people and provide instant access to a community of like-minded individuals who can build partnerships, aggregate ideas and maximise impact.

A new era of individualised intelligence will provide assistive experiences that truly understand the individual — without bucketing them in to categories based on assumptions of their data or online habits. When everyone can be individually represented, the bigger picture of the collective ‘whole’ becomes more accurate. And when everyone is accounted for, everyone has a voice. Through technology, we can embrace and empower the individual, whilst paving the way for a new era of inclusivity — ensuring that today’s opportunities are globally available to everyone and rebuilding what it means to be a community.