Updated: Feb 29, 2020
Far from causing the death of physical communities, digitisation will help make them stronger and more sustainable.
Over the years since digital devices took a hold on our lives, they have been blamed for causing the breakdown of society, destroying freedom, and creating disconnection in communities.
And sure, if you are prone to staring at your phone for 23 hours a day and believing every piece of fake news thrown up on social media sites, then yes, it can be damaging.
If you never meet or speak to your neighbours, then community spirit can be lost.
But we, as sociable beings, have a need for interaction with others. It is vital for physical and mental health.
But it isn’t easy to create.
People lead busy lives, families risk being fragmented, and public services such as pubs, shops and venues are under huge pressure to adapt and change their business models if they are to thrive.
There are many more powerful forces driving social change than mobile phones and social media sites.
Technology is merely the tool. Technology is neutral.
However, its power to drive change can be released by entrepreneurs who aim to solve problems.
If the issue to be tackled is to make communities stronger, then the power of technology can be released to make it so. All it needed was the foresight to realise the dream.
For example, the digital data in Building Information Models can be overlaid with details of individual properties to create a stunningly useful map of a community in Virtual Reality.
The location of local shops, and their online services, the food and drink offer of pubs, events being held at community halls, plays being performed at theatres, and fixtures held at football stadia, can be available in one unique place.
Indeed, there is nothing stopping all the services available locally being searchable on a residents’ app of the local community.
People love to stay in touch, as Facebook shows, and the trend now is to be able to create groups and stay in touch with specific people, rather than risk sharing their data with the whole world.
This augurs well for the future of communities.
Communities are not dead, but individuals are searching for a more modern and appropriate way to stay in touch.
Community-specific apps, with a laser-focus on defined geographic areas, can contain an interactive forum for the sharing of information and messaging.
So, if Noah wants to find out where his best friend Liam is, and Liam wants to tell him, they can communicate directly.
And if they use location sensors, they can find the way to meet each other.
More seriously, they can become the messengers of important alerts from community organisations, regarding potential flooding, traffic alerts, police alerts and even council reminders to get to the polling station and vote.
Residents can also use location sensors in their own homes to enable the tracking of people and shared assets.
So, if the worried family wants to locate their lost cat, and if the cat has a sensor, their minds can be put as ease, without the need to blitz the estate with “wanted” posters.
And the same principle can be applied to vulnerable people, too.
If Jo’s mum, Diane, has dementia and is prone to wandering off, if she is tagged it becomes possible to locate her without involving the police.
Community organisations, too, will be able to find it much easier to keep tabs on the location of assets.
Questions such as “who has the key to the community hall?” become simpler to answer, if the assets are tagged.
It also becomes easy to see how busy community assets like the local post office are. If someone can see the length of the queue, they can perhaps stagger their visit, or make a trip sooner than they would have.
Homeowners can be given a complete digital guide to their community by developers and housebuilders.
This becomes an additional positive selling point, enhancing the reputation, strength, and resilience of communities.
Helping the owners to market properties and making them more attractive to digital natives who also have an interest in deeper social connectivity.
Technology also hands homeowners the prospect of having a practical connection with items inside their homes.
Augmented Reality allows people to access information on any item in their home. When is the gas boiler due for repair? Is the washing machine near the end of its life? Is the heating on? Did I leave a security light on in the hallway?
The community dashboard also gives the landlord, or the management company a much better insight into how the community is working overall, helping them to improve sustainability.
So, imagine the scene.
Alongside the keys to their new home, every buyer would receive access to a smart community application.
One particularly positive by-product of this is that more people will be able to get to know their neighbours, and to find out who shares their interests, be it in anything from stamp collecting, to fishing, to connected internet gaming.
This can tackle head on the criticisms that the online world is a threat to human communities.
And we would argue that the digitisation of real estate developments holds out a real promise for communities that can become stronger, with individuals less isolated and as connected as they want to be in the villages of the future.
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