Communities play a vital role in our lives. McMillan & Chavis (1986) define a sense of community as "a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members' needs will be met through their commitment to be together.” Put simply, a sense of community is a feeling that brings people close, unites them, keeps them secure emotionally and physically, and helps accomplish life objectives. A community is considered to be strong when people help each other for personal and professional reasons, relieving mental stress, and increasing the feeling of happiness.
However, as we live in a technology-driven world, do communities hold the same importance even today? Technologies have enabled us to get things done at the snap of our fingers without even the need for stepping out of the house. While technologies benefit us with connected, smart, and flexible lives, are we disconnecting from the offline world? Is technology isolating us from our communities? Or is it the other way around? Is technology enabling citizens to build collaborative environments, offering innumerable options to communicate with other people and create a ‘stronger’ sense of community?
Yes, technology can create a sense of community!
The explosion of cutting-edge, digital technologies and high-speed connectivity has indeed helped in bringing people together and fostering a sense of belonging. Here’s how:
Due to affordability and accessibility, smartphone ownership is growing rapidly across the world. Every other person is seen busy with their smartphone, interacting, and making connections with new people. Before the advent of mobile technology, people had to wait for a relative or friend to get home to speak with them. However, today that isn’t the case anymore. Smartphones have enabled people to reach anybody, anytime, anywhere in a matter of just a few seconds. Isn’t that the most relevant proof of how technology supports community building?
● Collaborative environments for studying and working
For quite a while now, collaborative environments have disrupted the traditional school campuses and workplaces. These technology-rich spaces allow people to experience the benefits of working in groups, allowing them to socialize, make friends, and exchange knowledge.
Technology-led collaborative learning environments empower kids to engage with others, understand their weaknesses better, and learn together with high-performing peers. Besides, educators can design personalized learning paths for each individual, helping them grow in their respective careers. For example, by offering network-enabled learning opportunities, students are able to learn remotely. This opens up immense opportunities for students to engage, communicate, and collaborate with others.
Likewise, a collaborative working environment, enabled by technology, helps geographically distributed team members to work alongside and share ideas. This will not only help employees to improve interpersonal and technical skills but also enable them to deal with different personal and professional issues. Besides, there are many collaborative tools that allow dispersed teams to communicate in one place, helping them achieve a common goal.
● Smart and sustainable commuting options and utilization of public spaces
With the help of technology, we are offered the safest and fastest commuting options that help build communities too. Carpooling is one of the many options that are not only environment-friendly but cost-effective and helps in meeting new people. Besides, technology has helped people to eliminate their waiting time for public transport, allowing them to reach their destination sooner than before. This enables an increase in leisure time, which can be spent with friends and family.
Further, technology can be leveraged in making smart utilization of public spaces for community building. One of the best examples that fit in this scenario is the smart bus stops. Smart bus stops are technology-powered bus stops with numerous amenities like charging plugs for smartphones, free Internet connectivity, and interactive screens for commuters to read books and newspapers. This way, bus stops can be transformed into a place where people can spend time with new faces and make friends. Technology is indeed combating social isolation, isn’t it?
Vast potential lies in new-age technologies to engage communities and bring in the sense of belonging, safety and security, and togetherness among them. Technological revolution not only brings in economic development but also uplifts citizen standard of living and promotes sustainable development.