Community in the Digital Age
Technology has brought the world into our homes but many people worry that we are losing our connection with the communities right outside our front door. How are we engaging with our neighbours and friends in the digital age? Has technology reshaped our sense of neighbourhood and how people participate in their community for the better or worse.
The vision of the ideal community for many is one where neighbors are friendly and supportive, where they gather together for events and help each other with the work of life. Compete for the finest lawns, have chili cookoffs in the fall and bbq’s in the summer. Picture the welcome wagon from the 1960’s and 70’s delivering freshly baked goods to new homeowners. The common belief seems to be that now only a generation later we have moved away from face-to-face contact and are hiding in our homes behind a phone or screen.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, in a recent survey by Allstate just over 50% reported that technology has done more to increase connectivity over isolation. That still left 39% of people feeling that there has been a weakening sense of community in neighbourhoods. Millennials are feeling the most positively about these developments. Over 60% of them feel the digital revolution will continue to benefit them in the future. Whereas only 45% of seniors felt the same way. Perhaps the isolation will come from people’s ability to afford technology and their understanding of how to utilize it.
Technology has made it easier for individuals to connect with their local community organizations and social support models. Facebook groups for neighborhoods give opportunities for people to act as a neighborhood watch, share and trade goods and services like babysitting, tutoring, gardening, house cleaners and personal trainers. Block yard sales and holiday parties are coordinated. They are organizing to pitch local governments for speed bumps, stop signs or better signage. Homeowners are using apps to earn extra money by sidelining in ride sharing programs or delivering meals. And online apps and meal planners are helping neighbors schedule delivery of supportive meals for grieving or healing members right to their homes.
And the homes themselves are even connected. Smart cities are here. With integrated and interconnected utilities, security, buildings and traffic systems including smart street lights, wayfinding crosswalks and more. Bike sharing, car sharing and other ways to build on the social economy are now readily available even in smaller towns. Not to mention more and more people are choosing co-living in homes and condo life in smart buildings.
Times have changed, and neighbourhoods have changed but people fundamentally have not. We will always look to our neighbours for connection and community and thankfully now we have ever expanding ways to do so.