As technology develops distance is being obliterated, but as people transfer their lives more and more into the digital world and communicate with friends and family on the other side of the planet, are they losing touch with their immediate community and the people around them?

We had a comment sent in by Samo, who warned that our fixation with technology was alienating us from one another:

citizen_icon_180x180I think it is a very important part of human life to feel you belong to a certain group of people, especially at a young age; not just in the virtual world, but also in the real world. With the development of technology, people tend to transfer their lives into virtual worlds, so we will have to take very good care to encourage the young to establish social connections in the real world…

To get a response, we took Samo’s question to Ben Hammersley, British internet technologist, futurist, journalist, author, broadcaster and Editor at Large of Wired UK. He is also one of the 40 Under 40 European Young Leaders. Is this a trend that he recognises?

ben-hammersleyYes, and I think it’s a really healthy one. I think it’s fabulous for the same reason that I think people moving to larger cities is fabulous. It might be true that your local community – on an emotional level – can be very supportive. And, sure, you and your best friends, or you and your partner or family can be hugely emotionally supportive at that very, very local level.

However, if you think to pre-web days, if you were the only person in your town who had a particular hobby or interest then you were the only person in your town with that interest. And you were basically on your own. Literally and figuratively, you were on your own. But now, no matter what it is that you are interested in, no matter what your passion, no matter what your medical condition, no matter what your sexual preference, whatever it is we’re talking about, whatever that thing is that’s most important to you, you are no longer alone, no matter where you are geographically. And you are no longer necessarily filtered by the rest of your community on the basis of your gender, or age, or physical appearance, or anything like that.

And so, when we look at communities, and we look at the value of communities and how valuable they are to use emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, aesthetically, all of that, then I think what we find is that the internet enables us take part in much better communities than just the people who live in your village, or the same people who you meet in the pub at the weekend – unless you happen to live in one of the bigger major cities in the world. But if you live in a small village in the north of Finland, how isolated are you?

I mean, sure, you can see your local community – you can say ‘Hi’ to each other on the street when it’s not freezing cold. But then you go online and have your real community with the people who are interested in your real thing, and it’s infinitely more rewarding for you as an individual, and for the rest of the world, for you to take part in those sorts of communities than just the local one. I think those sort of groupings of people, just like cities, in the same way cities are the height of civilization, I think that these sort of internet communities are themselves one of the great symbols of civilization and human evolution. Infinitely more than a sort of cosy rural lifestyle where everybody knows everybody. Because those can be incredibly oppressive. You know, deeply, deeply oppressive. And if they’re not oppressive then I’m afraid you’re not trying hard enough.

Is technology alienating us from one another? Or is it connecting people with different interests and preventing anybody from feeling lonely ever again? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Alex Couros

40 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Laurinda Seabra

    Not at all,in fact its increasing our sense of community, What is affecting it are policies like the new VAT impact on micro and small businesses which did not get the necessary thought process. A case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing … typical of most EU policies and its application across 28 countries

  2. avatar
    Stella Kontogianni

    I think that technology increases the sence of community. It helps communication, information and expression of opinions

  3. avatar
    Elysse Vincze

    It depends how deep (qualitative) you go with the answer. Accordingly, with the consequences.

  4. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Yes the technology helps increase the capacity of the human

  5. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    If sense of community = connectivity with the world?
    Answer = yes!
    If sense of community = knowing those around me better?
    Answer = no!

  6. avatar
    Sophia-Maria Prentou

    I think that its misuse is the root cause of the problem. Technology in itself of course makes our lives easier, however the problems start when we abuse it; it’s not that it prevents us from feeling lonely again (because only we are responsible for feeling lonely), rather it makes it easy to communicate with friends and family far away. And also it’s not that it alienates people, but its misuse is what alienates people from one another…

  7. avatar
    Antoine Che

    It does both, so as any technology it has good and bad effects and should be used wisely…

  8. avatar
    Andrew Lally

    Inequality is making us distrustful of and isolated from others.
    Inequality is the result of the neocons agenda.
    How can I trust you when you have significantly more or less than I do?

  9. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    … technology IS alienating us from one another… and connecting us to “someone elses”…

  10. avatar

    Computer based IT is doing both, alienating us from one another and connecting people. It broadens our (cognitive) spirituality and provides access to sheer unlimited numbers of “text producers”. On the other hand it seems to be detrimental for everything which is significantly bodily in our relations.

  11. avatar
    catherine benning

    What is eroding our sense of community is government and the policies accepted on demand from the financial sector that we choose to name austerity. This along with the PC sanitisation of our thoughts, forcing all of us to use the internet to communicate, as the only way to uphold any sense of free speech.

    Demonstrators arrested and abused to keep them from making a stand against the crock that has it’s hand in the money bags of bribery, have to make sure the voice of the people is silenced. So,the people turn to the WWW. It’s a bigger audience for their grief to be heard.

    The people or citizens of Europe have so much more power than they give themselves credit for. If only they used their numbers the way the Indian nation did when Gandhi was leader. He freed that nation from the British without too much loss of life. Which proves demonstration, which after all is democracy, works. And those in the top one percentile know it. Which is why they stop communication between individuals on a more natural basis. They separate and divide to keep themselves in power because they cannot face election in the true sense of that concept. They have no vision to put to the people that would merit their vote. Their answer then is indiscriminate censorship and incarceration should you dare to speak without their consent.

    The technology we have is the one source that presently they have not been able to stitch up. But they are working on it. And it won’t be long before they claim, the threat of terrorism is the reason they must remove our ability to make contact. It’s already begun in the US and the UK. And once it is accepted, because of the fear they instil in us all, with the threat of ‘death by invaders’ we will be left as isolated as number 2 in The Prisoner.

    They have already reduced the family unit to half what it once was and intend to do away with it altogether, thereby killing off that ‘community’ they so despise, under the guise of ‘equality.. Wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who said, ‘there is no such thing as society.’

  12. avatar
    catherine benning

    In the UK the community is being eroded by secret courts. Horrendous abuse of ordinary citizens is taking place without the knowledge of the citizens of our country. I read it this morning in our papers.

    One women was sent to prison for six weeks because she removed her father for the cruelty of a care home who was abusing him. Read the article I have added to this post.

    Another woman, a grandmother, has been put into prison for giving her granddaughter a hug. Why are the people who are doing this kind of despicable practice themselves not incarcerated? Europe is to blame we are told. If this is not the truth, why isn’t Europe letting the people know that they have nothing to do with it. My government clearly wants to blame the Germans. It’s the old mantra of Hitler is back.

    And another.

    Now read what this Social Workers writes about the abuse of children and families within our system.

    • avatar

      Hello Catherine,

      Happy New Year!

      As you so often provide insightful links for us, here is one from me to you – in case you haven’t found it yet yourself. The chain of arguments given there, although focusing first of all on Japan, can also be useful when looking at the EU.

      Yours (in mind),


  13. avatar
    Márcia Estrela

    technology is definitely alienating people. on one hand you get to talk with people from around the world, but on the other people are losing their sense of empathy towards each other on a daily basis because everyone is so obsessed with being number one on the social networks. of course this is only the tip of the iceberg

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      Wow, Bastian, what a great link. Riveting stuff, which helps the conundrum fall nicely into place. And, no, I had not seen it prior. Thank you.

      Happy New Year to you alsol,


    • avatar
      dennis teel

      i agree that it’s causing a disintegration of human empathy for others..and when people can get online and choose or selectively ‘friend’ who they want to speak to or get to know,then that very act dismisses the possibility of meeting a person the old fashioned way..there are a lot people i met in the past that if i had been picking them by their interests online i never would’ve met them and we wouldn’t be friends to this very day. making friends with people by “matching’ isn’t necessarily the best way to make friends.and while making some friends that way,in the long run a person misses out on meeting a lot of really great people.

  14. avatar
    Federico Cuppoloni

    Tecnology helps, but can’t pull toghether 500 millions people with different backgrounds and cultures. At the same time, it’s not technology the problem if we are loosing our sense of community. We are at a crossroad and we should decide where to go; unfortunately, we actually prefer not to decide, so the crossroad is still there, with us in the middle. I don’t think that something that allows me to communicate with people from Spain, Portugal, France or Ireland can represent a danger for the EU…

  15. avatar
    catherine benning

    Our sense of community is certainly eroded by the lies of the State. As in this outright fraud against humanity for so many years has proved. How can any government back the deliberate concealment of damaging vaccination of our infants this way. And, as in the UK, continue to give young babies such a lethal injection without telling the child’s parents openly that the chances are very high that their children, especially if they are boys, will be damaged for life after having it.

    Who will stop this evil act.

  16. avatar
    Ioana Pumpie

    I wouldn’t say it’s eroding our sense of community, it’s just moving it online…and actually increasing it, to some degree.

  17. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    It is eroding our sense of , community, family, friends, all.BECAUSE people do not know how to use it in their community lives. We have to stop blaming technology for our lack of common sense. Speaking for myself, I use many of these modern devices and NONE has affected my community life. But it takes effort to take advantage of these devices without letting them intrude and destroy our lives.

  18. avatar
    Mathew Sandoval

    Indeed. It seems as though tech communities are changing the way societies are viewed and view themselves. A challenge if you will, to keep the faith, free markets must protect themselves and their consumers.

  19. avatar
    Mitsakos Spyridou

    This should not be the question. The question in contrast is whether this kind of technology is what we need as a society. Because in fact we live in an Era of capitalist advance and “peace” so when lots of people see their future black all these companies are gathering the worlds welath

  20. avatar

    Of course technology is not eroding our senses of community. These iPhones and Smartphones must not be allowed to take over our life’s. What happened the old phones?? They can still be used…

    I mean modern technology is not always good. We should stop this madness and allow the consumer to have all sorts of products and telephones not just smart phones lol

    Something needs to be done here!!!

    • avatar
      Jim Landos

      I think that All phones should be kept on the mobile phone market regardless if they are smartphones or keyboard phones. The new technology anyway just separates people more I think…..

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