We need a global community but can we get it? #65 #cong19


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.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is all about identity
  2. Community is about what we are but also what we aren’t
  3. Technology isn’t making community any easier
  4. 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.

Contacting Billy MacInnes:

You can contact Billy by email

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.

Where’s the big idea? #63 #cong18


What could happen if our ideas were focused on solving more important problems than serving the market and what will be our role in a world of artificial intelligence.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas are being stifled by the straitjacket of consumerism and the market

  2. As a result, really big ideas are in short supply

  3. Technology is likely to limit the environment for ideas even further

  4. AI could make things even worse

About Billy MacInnes:

Freelance editor/journalist/trainer Billy MacInnes is a former editor of MicroScope magazine. He has written about the IT industry, for a number of publications, for more than 20 years.

Contacting Billy MacInnes:

You can email Billy or follow him on Twitter.

By Billy MacInnes

Having read through a number of submissions to Congregation 18, the first thing I have to say is that I am impressed by how many different takes people have managed to produce on this year’s chosen topic of ideas. I had no idea there were so many things that could be said about the subject.

To me, ideas come in many shapes and sizes, great and small, good and bad, priceless and worthless, powerful and pitiful, rare and plentiful. But whatever they are, they all emerge from the same source: us. They are given form by you and me, by people down the road or on the other side of the world. How we give birth to those ideas is a product of who we are, who we aren’t, where we are, what we know, what we don’t know, what we see, what we don’t see, the prevailing culture of our time, the forces and beliefs that prevail around us and the things that surround us.

What this means is that ideas are often the product of their time and their culture. Today, our world is constrained by the forces of commerce, business, technology and innovation. Those forces act as a limitation on the scope of our ideas. For example, people spend millions of hours working on producing smartphones that are a different size with a better camera and more screen only for that effort to be discarded and superseded within a year or so – if they’re lucky. And that effort is duplicated across a number of companies producing smartphones. Every day of every year.

Imagine how much resource could be devoted to generating worthwhile ideas to make the planet a better and safer place for us if we were capable of thinking outside the box that consumerism and the market has wedged us in to so tightly. If people spent as much time coming up with ideas to counter real problems, such as world hunger, climate change, pollution, homelessness and over-population, we could probably eradicate many of them. Of course, it’s not just about ideas, it’s about turning them into reality and devoting the energy required to put them into action. But that’s the point, ideas are only the start of the journey.

The problem we face today, is that ideas on big issues such as how to save the planet and ourselves are being killed at birth or discredited and disparaged because they are somehow ethereal and don’t take account of “the real world”. Well guess what, the real world is everywhere you look when you’re not staring at your smartphone. And the real world is suffering because of a lack of ideas and action to try and protect and preserve it. Why? Because right now, the currency of ideas is profit, efficiency, cost and distraction. Those are the areas where ideas can make money. So those are the areas where ideas, anemic as they are in the great scheme of things, are allowed to develop and grow.

Essentially, we get the ideas the market is prepared to pay for. The biggest idea today, the one that has been elevated to the status of religious belief, is that the market will create the optimum environment. If something goes wrong, the market will correct it. But if we allow the market to become the straitjacket for our ideas and actions, our creativity and imagination, what are we left with? You only have to look at the government’s feeble response to the homelessness crisis afflicting Ireland to see the result.

In an environment where the market and commerce are elevated above so much other human endeavour, what kind of ideas are most likely to be created? What ideas are likely to be favoured in a world where people and governments have ceded so much control of our today and tomorrow to market forces?

Looking at that tomorrow, what happens to ideas in a few years time (assuming it takes that long) when the application of artificial intelligence and big data generates its own insights and creates its own time and culture? Who decides what ideas are the right ideas for that age? Who sets the conditions against which some ideas are nurtured and encouraged and the rest are discarded? Human beings or AI? More importantly, who gives birth to those ideas? Human beings or AI?

Philip K Dick’s sci fi novel of 1968 famously asked Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, so perhaps we should be asking ourselves: will AI form the ideas of the future? AI might do a better job of generating ideas that help to solve the world’s real problems. But it might not. If AI‘s foundations are based on the principles of the market and it suffers from the same restrictions on imagination, creativity and vision, do we really believe those ideas will be any more effective than they are today? We might also want to ask ourselves if there’s any reason why those ideas should include us.

Which leads to another question: is there a point where the idea dies? If an idea isn’t created by a human being, can itstill be an idea? In other words, will the idea die if we die? Or will it live on through technology? An idea created by what was once an idea.