Thursday, 29 October 2015

Is technology killing communities? #kmers #socialmedia

Last month I attended a meeting entitled "What are we talking about when we talk about community?" We started the conversation by sharing our ideas and views about a wide variety of congregation of people - which for ease of reference we called communities. These ranged from tribes to cooperatives to kibbutz.

We then shared our perception and understanding of different types of communities, such as, community of practice, community of interest, stakeholder community and social community and talked about the importance of nurturing strong and weak ties.

As we engaged in the conversation, it dawned on me that communities have the power of uniting and dividing....

They unite, when people who share a common interest or value come together to learn, share and innovate. They may divide when people who share different interests and values end up going head-to-head. At the same time, while fostering discipline, they are a great conduit for innovation and collaboration.

As we delved in and starting unpacking the subject matter, I thought to myself when was the last time I was part of a community together with a competitor. For example, as a Ferrari fan,  would I be considered a traitor if I joined the McLaren or Red Bull community?

This made me realize that for communities to stay at the cutting edge, they MUST have a disruptive element. I realized that perhaps the dividing factor is as good, if not better than the unity factor. This is because having competing interests will help us come out of our comfort zone, challenge the status quo and as a result transform, create something new.... in short innovate.

If you've had the privilege of being part of a community, you may have joined it because you shared a common interest or passion. You may have joined a community to survive or you may have joined a community because you were in search of diversity or wanted to get close to your traditions and roots.

What ever may have been your drive to join a community - once you embraced YOUR community and no matter whether you ended up being a fervent contributor or a lurker - you probably benefitted from a sense of belonging and established some sort of an emotional bond.

The concept of communities is nothing new. They have existed since the beginning of time when groups of people sharing something in common came together to pursue a common goal and/or passion.

The new element today is technology. Some argue that technology - could be a double-edged sword - as it is contributing to loosing sight of the PEOPLE component of community.

As Henry Mintzberg eloquently outlines, in his article We need both networks and communities,before the advent of technology, the city center, the village square was the heart of the community. Today, the village center has an on-line rival.....

In the past, communities were made up of people who knew each other, met each other at the market, talked with each other, came to each other's help in moments of need. The advent of technology has changed the way community members interact with each other.

Mintzberg argues that since members of virtual communities may not necessarily know each other in person and may never get an opportunity to talk with each other face-to-face, these are more of networks than communities. Others argue that networks are better at communication than collaboration.

Where does this leave us?  I think we all agree that nothing can and will ever replace the nuances that a face-to-face interaction offers. At the same time, I believe that the affordances of technology  have helped to bridge the time and space barrier. For example, we now can have face-to-face interactions and collaborate with each other virtually. But we cannot break bread virtually, we cannot enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of wine virtually ..... We cannot do the social stuff, the very things that bring people together, help create a bond, thus foster collaboration.

So, are virtual and face-to-face interactions mutually exclusive? I am afraid there is not a black and white answer to this question. It goes without saying that when you know members of your virtual community in person and have opportunities of interacting with them face-to-face, this definitely has an impact on the quality of the conversations and undoubtedly facilitates the virtual interaction.

This does not mean that you are at a disadvantage with it comes to engaging with members who you do not know in person. I am firm believer that you can establish collaborative relationships with people who you have not met in person. At the same time, I also know that when you have had the luxury of meeting them in person and have an opportunity to "socialize" with them, this will end up having a night and day impact on the quality of the relationship.

While I cannot agree more with Mitzberg statement that we need both networks and communities, as a technological determinist I am not sure how to internalize his conclusion "The new digital technologies, wonderful as they are in enhancing communication, can have a negative effect on collaboration unless they are carefully managed. An electronic device puts us in touch with a keyboard, that's all" as I believe that technology is nothing but a tool. It is up to the user - that is US - to make the best use of it.

I am putting the question and perhaps my personal dilemma to my KM and social media communities and I look forward to hearing your your view and ideas. I am sure your informed views will help take this conversation forward. Let me thank you in advance for your contributions.
REFLECTIONS and REACTIONS

Post a Comment