Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Technolocalism and community renewal

This is an excellent article in Renewal by Will Davies and James Crabtree from 2004. Entitled 'Invisible villages: Technolocalism and community renewal', it explores how 'localism' and geographic devolution might be served by the Internet.

The premise of the article is that place is yielding to networks as a mechanism for how people connect. Rather than be bound to a physical place as the source and locality of social interaction, people may have more ties outside the area in which they live and work. Physical responses to the desire to create local social networks and reconnect the local to the non-local include mixed tenure housing and 'place-making' through iconic buildings. There are obvious limitations to these approaches. Placing people in proximity to each other doesn't necessarily make them know each other. There can be only so many iconic buildings before places start looking the same.

However locality can still bring people together through the need for action to tackle local problems. The Internet can help as a structure to enable communication and organisation. As more people use the Internet more regularly it becomes a mechanism to communicate with people locally as well as further afield (several studies are cited to support this). Furthermore at the application level, many new collaboration tools are developing to enable richer communication including the emergence of so called 'social software'.

The web enables a middle ground between public and private interaction which the authors liken to the mechanisms of a village-- in a village people can collaborate without very formal mechanisms based on trust. This harks back to my post on situated software based on Clay Shirkey's work-- how software can be created without the need for excessive overhead (scalability, security) within communities. Of course the negative connotations of the village metaphor (to an urban-dweller!) include the idea of the peeping neighbour twitching at the net curtains (and there are plenty of opportunities to do that electronically).

Finally I like their characterisation of the Internet as a 'vast network of inter-linking public spaces' rather than as one undifferentiated global public space. This also links to another site I'm exploring-- More on that another time.

Will Davies is the author of two equally excellent iSociety reports covering related ground.
You Don't Know Me, but... Social Capital & Social Software
Proxicommunication:ICT and the Local Public Realm


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