Recently I attended a ‘Tech for Good’ event here in Dublin which discussed how tech can be used to build community. This topic interests me as I feel tech in community building is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, tech has and continues to be used to connect people and build both virtual and real-life communities. However, there are also very valid arguments made that these communities are essentially artificial and more often than not distract people from the communities in their real-life.
The speakers at this event addressed this conundrum by mainly discussing how their user bases wanted not only an online community to get and share advice to other users, but also one which connected people in real-life. Combining virtual with real-life is an aspect of tech which has grown in popularity, especially as people have become more cognisant of the isolating effects of social platforms. Thus these new innovations in social tech allow you to get the ease and access of tech communities, with the benefits of real-life interactions.
The question is, how can we bring these community-building tech platforms to remote and hard-to-reach places, which lack the infrastructure necessary to make these platforms work? There are companies working on this dilemma; for example Google subsidiary Alphabet X is using Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) (or simply put, ‘light beams’) to bring internet to those in rural communities. The quest to bring tech to hard-to-reach places is a goal which multiple groups around the world aspire to solve.
While the benefits must be weighed out with the costs of pushing community-building technology, expanding internet and community platforms when adapted and owned by local persons has the power to drastically increase the quality of life for those in remote areas. When no real community is easily accessible, the internet can provide connection to people in similar situations while simultaneously facilitating ways for people to meet-up in real-life. This tech could be life-saving when thought of in regards to human-disaster and medical emergencies, but when it comes to building community, its power lies with simply improving people’s day-today lives.