Digital Legacies: Communities

Julius Wiedemann delves into the meaning of community and how togetherness works on digital platforms.

by Julius WiedemannPublished on : Dec 22, 2020

What is a community in the digital era? In an article at govtech.com in 2010, named The Dimensions of a Digital Community, Blake Harris states that “A good definition of a digital community should provide a vision for the reinvention of our communities for the 21st century. And it should certainly embrace much more than anywhere, anytime connectivity or improved efficiencies for mobile workers”.  

The value of a company is now in the interaction of its community of users, and in the engagement generated in this relationship. There are approximately 10 million groups on Facebook, and this is what interest marketers. They are both regional and global. The premise of the 21st century is to think local and act global. Finding communities like yours elsewhere is now more feasible than ever. The disconnection that existed for like-minded people had to do with the means of communication, which were neither widely available nor effective.

The other important point about communities worldwide is English. The language has become the Esperanto of the 21st century. Even though the effort to maintain and recuperate ancient languages seems to be in full motion, a good thing, English has become the basis for interaction. As most of the programming is done in English, it is also important to notice that certain tools work in that logic. For instance, if you want to type an  address on Google Maps in Brazil, you are better off starting with the numbers of the street, and not the street itself. That happens because in the US numbers are put before.

A group of bird-watchers in the park | Digital Legacies: Communities | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
A group of bird-watchers in the park Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

We live in the era of diversity, and nothing better to express this diversity then finding your soulmates wherever they might be. It might be doing watercolour portrait, or pottery, or birdwatching. No matter where you are today, if you have a mobile phone or a computer you will find people with whom you can exchange information, learn, and publish your findings and your thoughts. Birdwatching alone is responsible for around 40 billion in expenditure in the US alone, or five per cent of the total of 800 billion spent on outside recreation. It is also about three times the size of the bottled water market also in the United States. And even though birdwatching is primarily an offline activity, it generates most of its information and turnover online, from buying fly tickets to hotel reservations, from buying equipment online to forums and blogs supplying information.

In another different case, of online gaming, digital communities have become the main pillar for the development of this industry. According to the blog Vanilla Forums, there are five types of people in online gaming communities. They are the casual gamer, the theory crafter, the tinkerer, the pro gamer, and the troll. These profiles constitute what is today one of the most vibrant and responsive industries in the world. In 2020 the turnover of this industry will be close to $60 billion and in the next seven years a double-digit growth is expected to take it to over $127 billion in 2027. The number of gamers in the world might reach around three billion people in 2023. Numbers here matter because they indicate the depth of influence the community exercises and are able to organise themselves around very specific subjects. Having three billion gamers in the world means also hundreds of thousands of different small communities that act globally, and ignite billions of dollars of investments. Most game developers are expected to experience significant growth in their stock price in 2021.

  • A glimpse of a gaming community playing together | Digital Legacies: Communities | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
    A glimpse of a gaming community playing together Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann
  • Cheerful celebration within a group | Digital Legacies: Communities | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
    Cheerful celebration within a group Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

The other important factor in the growth of global communities I believe is logistics. Being able to know that someone on the other side of the planet has common interests with you is one thing. Another completely different thing is to understand that products and services can reach out to this other person. A global economy means that communities become important when global logistics of physical things also become feasible. When pent-up demands are met with products and services available at reasonable prices, it enables a spark in creativity and innovation. That, on a global scale enables a revolution. Communities are at the forefront of understanding human behaviour, because they represent the underlying patterns that help explain the complexity of human interests.

A community room with computer systems | Digital Legacies: Communities | Julius Wiedemann | STIRworld
A community room with computer systems Image: Courtesy of Julius Wiedemann

Finally, to make things more exciting, most people belong to many different communities, showcasing that humans are not unilaterally committed to just one thing, and will dedicate time, effort, and sometimes money, to activities they feel will reward them somehow. When the pandemic started, many communities shifted online, including some that were extremely present in the physical world, like the environmental protests. They were obliged to change strategies to keep making pressure on society and politicians, and indeed they haven’t stopped to work. If the future of many things is online, so is the future of communities. The term Global Village, meaning people in an interconnected world, propagated in the 60s by the Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan, can now be understood as a world with millions of small communities, all interacting and generating further communities. It is endless and presents endless possibilities.

Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.

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