Communities in the 21st Century #27 #cong19


The idea of community is ever evolving. As technology has developed it has facilitated the evolution of the idea of community from ‘a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’ to ‘the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common’. How can we capture the best parts of the former while enjoying the benefits of the latter?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. How does your idea of community differ from that of your grandparents or of your children (if you have any)?
  2. As the idea of community has changed over the years what have we lost? and gained?
  3. How does technology facilitate your idea of community?
  4. What are the challenges facing our young people as the concept of community continues to change?

About Pamela O'Brien:

Pam O’Brien is a Maths and Computer Science lecturer in Limerick Institute of Technology. The integration of techology in education is a key driving force and is an area to which she devotes a significant effort. She organises the ICT in Education conference (, an annual event which provides an opportunity for educators to share ideas for the integration of technology in teaching and learning. She is an advocate for the student voice and the maker education movement and has been been involved in CoderDojo for many years.

Contacting Pamela O'Brien:

You can follow Pamela on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Pamela O’Brien

When we talk about community we are often referring to the most commonly used definition “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”. However, there is another definition “The condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.”.

For my grandparents the idea of community was very strong but was very much embedded in the locality in which they lived. Many people from my grandparents generation got little opportunity to travel much outside their own locality. My childhood and early adulthood was spent hearing my grandmother ‘trace’ the relationships between the various families within the parish and telling stories that emphasised the importance of that community based support network. She spoke warmly of going ‘ag cuardaoich’ to neighbours houses. This is something I witnessed myself many years later when a grandaunt was living in a nursing home. Some of the residents had mobility issues and so were not able to participate fully in the daily life of the home. Some of the other residents went ‘ag cuardaioch’ to their rooms in the evenings. It was so lovely to see the joy these visits brought to both the people being visited and those who were visiting.

Many of my parent’s generation emigrated to find work as there not too many opportunities for employment in Ireland in the 50’s and 60’s. In my own family, most of my aunts and uncles ended up in England. This was back in the days when it wasn’t so easy to travel so for most of these people trips home were few and far between. The Irish community abroad became very important for these emigrants with the local Irish club becoming a focal point for themselves and their families. Despite the different location, the most important community for many people of this generation was still very local to where they lived.

Looking at my generation, we are probably the one that has seen the most significant change in this idea of community. With the advent of cheaper flights and the introduction of the internet it is now much easier to stay in touch with people regardless of their geographical location. So the idea of community has been turned on its head. For us community is no longer confined to where we live. When I was growing up we didn’t even have a phone in our house, so communication with those who were travelling or living in a different place was often confined to letters. Fast forward 30 years and now I can’t imagine being without my mobile phone!! Through this piece of technology and the many apps that run on it I can stay in touch with family and friends dispersed throughout the globe. It has also allowed me to connect with so many people on a professional basis, who I would never have had an opportunity to connect with even 20 years ago. What I love most is that so many of these professional contacts have become good friends because of the ease of communication through social media. This has mostly come about through the combination of some face to face contact combined with ongoing social media contact in between. For me, face to face contact, even if only intermittent, is crucial to sustain these relationships.

For my children’s generation their idea of community is completely different in some ways to even mine. They don’t have any concept of a life without the internet or social media. For them geography doesn’t hugely come into their sense of community. In many ways the world has become their community. There are significant positives to this but there are also some negatives. Despite the appearance of being so connected, many of our young people can feel adrift. They can have many ‘friends’ but very few people they can really connect with, which can be problematic when they are experiencing difficulties. We all need that network of people that we turn to when times are tough. These are the people who help us to get things in perspective. But it can be difficult to open up to people you only know through social media, who, let’s face it are living their best life if their Instagram or Snapchat stories are anything to go by!! Many of us have a tendency to compare ourselves unfavourably to others but this feeling can be magnified for our teenagers who are trying to find their way without the support network of a local community. In my experience this is particularly the case in the early teenage years as our children navigate the first few years of secondary school where friendship groupings can go through considerable churning as new alliances are forged and seemingly unbreakable friendships are pulled apart. Our job as parents is to help our children to navigate these challenging years but that can be easier said that done!!

Technology has helped to facilitate the connections that allow us to belong to multiple communities in a way that our parents and grandparents couldn’t. The challenge going forward is to preserve the best components of the more traditional view of community while leveraging all that is good about the ever evolving concept of community.


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