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Using internet to construct community

Looking at modern life, it seems unquestionable that technology informs much of what we’re doing (as explored in Tech as an evolving second life and Reality as a sense check). My question here is how that serves human social community, how it’s impacting us, and how well we’re overcoming the challenges to make the most of opportunities.

Those are vast, unanswerable questions in a way; countless communities exist, with the platforms hosting them shifting all the time as tech companies draw up manifestos for their borderline utopian future societies. If communities arise naturally, it must make sense for business to capitalise on that. But what are we trying to attain, to what extent is it achievable, how should it be shaped, and what’s in our best interests?

As discussed in Globalised society finding its feet, life is changing at an unprecedented rate; and many shifts brought by technology happen regardless of our conscious involvement. Surely there’s an agenda behind all that we’re offered and an impact to all we do: systems shape our behaviour and our outcomes. Technology being a tool designed with a purpose in mind; our ability to use it knowingly, within context, and in full awareness of its advantages and limitations is down to us (as grappled with in “Response Ability” by Frank Fisher). So are we right to leave the reshaping of our social existence largely in the hands of tech companies?

Humans are evidently social creatures: we exist in communities; cooperating and creating meaning with one another (see Mirrors we offer one another). That shared existence giving rise to the habits of communication, organisation, social identity, economic activity, and cultural conversation that have lately become enshrined online. But should we happily replace real world relationships with streamlined virtual communities? Do we know enough of community to confidently pull them apart on the ground, and replicate our understanding of them online?

At times I must come across as anti-tech, which truly isn’t the case. It’s just that with human nature, inner life, and social realities I find myself genuinely concerned that we’re stumbling blindly into a world of opportunity and placing our faith in the hands of business.

Looking back, communities seemingly arose naturally, often shaped by local figures or forces. Groupings of affinity, necessity, proximity, or common interest evolved into a society where meaning was held, people belonged, and impacts were felt (as in Community – what it was, what we lost). In contrast, we’re now offered a limitless window to know and connect; but does this spread us thinly, drawing us away from our immediate realities where we display less interest or tolerance for those nearby?

Getting back to the point, humans now live in this global society with communities both online and within our environments; with participation in one often at the cost of the other. Companies may have pretty ambitious, fine-sounding ideas for reshaping the social fabric of the world; but I’d have thought human society might be better placed in our hands.

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