We all have experience of different communities at different stages of our lives, those we are born to and those we choose to belong to. Communities bring people together was groups but they also shut people out. Unless we can change that, we will never have a global community that can represent us all.
- Community is all about identity
- Community is about what we are but also what we aren’t
- Technology isn’t making community any easier
- We need a global community for a global threat
About Billy MacInnes:
I am a freelance journalist, editor and trainer who has spent many many years covering IT and business. I’m also very interested in music, politics, literature and film.
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By Billy MacInnes
First of all, a confession. Writing about community is proving to be far more difficult than I expected it to be. Why is that? I think because we all have settled views of what community is and what it means. After all, we’ve all grown up in a community of some sort, we’ve been a part of different communities at different stages of our lives.
And there are so many of them, whether it be a village community, the GAA community, a fishing community or a gaming community, we’ve all engaged with a number of “communities” or identified with them as we journey through life. Which is fine, even if those communities diverge widely in just how deeply we are identified or engaged with them.
Now, with technology helping us to become more interconnected with an ever wider circle of people, organisations and institutions, it brings the potential for us to engage with even more communities and identify ourselves with them. Our membership of physical communities jostles with the virtual communities that technology enables us to become a participant in.
Does it matter whether virtual communities become more valuable to people than the physical ones? I’m not sure. Are the communities we belong to through birth or geography similar to the ones we choose ourselves because of our enthusiasm for a subject or a past-time or sport? Are the communities we are born into, move into or are placed into, the same as the ones we decide to join through our own volition? You’d think not but, on a very basic level, they are. Communities are all about belonging and identifying, they may be something you are born into or choose yourself, they could be all around you or spread across the globe, but they answer the same need.
In many ways, technology has helped to dramatically expand the number of communities we can connect to and given us the ability to reach like-minded individuals many miles away. But for all the reach that technology brings in terms of our ability to engage with so many people in so many more places and countries, has it helped to create bigger communities?
Think about it. Say you live in a small village and you’ve become part of that community. It’s quite likely you would also identify with your county and your country, but would you call those identities communities? Maybe if you were living abroad you might talk about being part of the Irish community but you wouldn’t bother with it here. Why? Because in Ireland, being Irish isn’t something that makes you distinct. It’s not a community because it’s not being presented as a difference from something else. And that’s the thing about community, it’s not about identifying and coming together as a group, it’s also about creating boundaries with those outside the group.
You would think that technology would dismantle those boundaries and create much wider communities but it hasn’t. Not really. Yes, there are celebrities and Youtubers with millions of followers but those are not communities. Those are fan clubs and we’ve always had those.
If we are as interconnected as our technology is supposed to have made us, why do we live in such a fractious age? Surely, we would be expanding our horizons and engaging as participants in the global community, for example, using that to inform our thinking and actions. Instead, we live in an increasingly polarised world where populism seeks to distort the differences between us and narrow the potential of community open to us.
Which makes me wonder if there is a a restriction to just how big communities can become because they can only exist if there is something else that they are defined against or separate from. In which case, can we ever be a global community. I hope so, especially at a time when the climate emergency is threatening the planet and we really need to act like a global community if we want humans, animals and plants to survive.
Maybe the climate emergency will be the threat that gives humanity something to set ourselves against so that we can form a global community. Maybe.