Saturday, 27 October 2007

Communities will out

A couple of things this week have reminded me just how quickly technology is adopted and begins to shape our lives. One of Russell Brand's Ponderland rants, this one on science and technology, reminded me of the days before mobile phones, when we had to arrange to meet our friends at pre arranged times and places - if they weren't there, we just had to go home! This was only about 10 years ago! According to the CIA World Factbook (cited in Wikipedia), several countries, including the UK, now have more mobile phones than people! The use of mobile phones has grown, not because they are clever, and have many functions, but because we are social animals who like to connect with others.

The internet was adopted in a similar fashion - it was only in the 90's that it really took hold, and companies and porn pushers took hold of it...but it wasn't always porn and the early days, there was a sense of freedom, connectivity, sharing and community, that was then missing from our lives. Web 2.0 has developed to enable us to return to this community centric internet of old. This fantastic video illustrates the point (thanks to
Laurel Papworth for this).

Interestingly, the guy being interviewed refers to people "feeling rooted through another person" in communicating via the internet. A great quote from an article on The Internet Society site,
a brief history of the internet says

The Internet is as much a collection of communities as a collection of technologies, and its success is largely attributable to both satisfying basic community needs as well as utilizing the community in an effective way to push the infrastructure forward.

The notion of community is at the core of how we use technology, and has always been the case. Many technological developments have enabled us to communicate (phone), to visit one another (cars, roads, bridges), they've all been about people getting together in some shape or form. Communities adopt technology for their own ends, they "find a way" to use what's available. What I'm really interested in is the word of mouth promotion of "tools" that lead us to make use of what is available to communicate, share and come together.

Communities will out...the technology with which this happens will change and develop, and communities which will do the changing. We need to think of communities like we do gardens - plants will grow if we do nothing, if we want particular types of plants to grow, we must nurture them. The same goes for communities - they will occur whatever we do, whatever technology is available, but if we want a particular type of community, then we must develop the skills to help them grow and flourish. Different technologies are like different types of soil, fertiliser, different degrees of heat, light, and different amounts of water. Different plants like different things, different communities like different things. We've developed skills in plant cultivation over many many years, it's time to learn how to grow our communities. Wenger, McDermott and Synder understand this - their book "Cultivating Communities of Practice" is a great start...but there's much more digging to be done.

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