“In times like these, the most important thing we at Facebook can do is develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” – Mark Zuckerberg, 2017.
What are the questions we should be asking as technologies change the way people connect, communicate and interact?
In this blog post about ‘strengthening and protecting what matters most’, the author calls for the social sector to lead a conversation about the kind of future that society wants, and explore how to build the necessary structures to get it there – in collaboration with business/academia/government.
She highlights why strong social infrastructure is important, but is concerned that a lot of that infrastructure is owned by companies in the private sector.
What caught my attention as I was reading the article was the reminder that ‘physical spaces…form the basis of community life’.
A strong, healthy society needs this thing we call ‘community life’, and it can be produced by making available a wide variety of safe, shared physical spaces that inspire and facilitate human connection and interaction – where local people (residents, workers, students) can come into contact with each other, experience social exchanges, get to know one another, and support each other.
Without this sense of belonging, we can feel isolated; and this in turn can make us feel powerless to have any impact and disengage us further from society.
The suggestion of the binding power of physical spaces resonates with me as I’m very aware of the new connections I have made and relationships I have built in the last 2-3 years, how important these connections/relationships have been to me (a full-time, single mother who lacks family support), and how these were formed in physical spaces: local playgroup for parents/toddlers, a local community garden, a local nursery, and the local kids’ playpark.
As a result of these relationships, I feel more connected to my local community, have become a more active member/contributor, and take responsibility for my neighbourhood. For example, I volunteer at the local community garden and its related events, I socialise with my neighbours and engage more actively with others in the neighbourhood in a variety of ways.
So, given the importance of shared physical spaces and real-life interactions, what role can technology play in strengthening those factors to create the kind of communities that will result in a stronger and more resilient society?