Awareness and Meaning in a Connected Community

It’s funny but I was thinking back to my idea of connected communities again. That being a collection of smaller communities that all work together on a larger common (and usually global) goal. What’s funny is that I realized that these communities actually exist today (more or less). Where are they? Right in front of you. Actually to make this really apparent, think about some of the more popular blogs on the web right now.

For example, think about Scripting News, Boing Boing, or Buzz Machine. What do these site’s do? Primarily they relay news and information of interest to them. But think about how these sites operate and interact with others, especially when something really important is happening in the world. These sites:

  • relay what is happening
  • relay which people are doing something about it
  • relay the results of what these people are doing

For example, during the Katrina disaster these sites relayed information that made people aware of what was going on, which people were taking action, and also what was the results of that action. In effect, this is a simple yet perfect feedback system for an ecosystem. Those a part of this system help protect it, not by giving orders to others, but instead by making others aware of what is going on within the system. This is called situational awareness.

Awareness

Basically an event occurs and it is relayed to others so that they can be aware of it as well and thus do what they feel is necessary to protect the entire system. In effect, everyone works independently choosing their own means of support but they are all still working towards a common collective goal (i.e. protect the system). The best part of why this works so well is that everyone can contribute in their own way, no matter how small of the contribution, yet the overall collective effect of these small contributions is one large one. Thus everyone feels like they are contributing to something large and meaningful, even if their contribution is just a small one.

Yet in thinking about this I realized that something was missing. One important element. Why? Well as everyone knows, we’re overloaded with information today. Thus if you created a system like this and relayed every minute little detail, people would be overloaded by the flow of information. Something, therefore, is needed to make this system work efficiently so that people don’t get overloaded by a deluge of information. What is it? Meaning.

Meaning

Strong communities are formed when relationships are created between people who have a shared interest in something that is meaningful to each one of them. Meaning is therefore what binds these communities. It is what they are all about. Thus when information flows around this communities, often the information that flows the quickest through it is information that has the most direct meaning to the community. For example, if a lady in a neighborhood community told her friend she saw a dog in the woods nearby the other day then no big deal. If however she said she saw a wolf then this information would spread rapidly throughout the community because this means more to the community (as everyone is concerned with the safety of others within it).

The same thing happens online. You’ll have a site talking about this and that, day in and day out but then one day something happens in the world and the site relays something meaningful to the entire community around it. Immediately this information is relayed to other neighboring communities so that they can be made of aware of it as well, as it may hold meaning for them. In effect, this is what connected communities is about. And in realizing this, I think I’m coming to one very startling conclusion. Technology is not the foundation of these connected communities but people are instead.

People

Don’t get me wrong. Technology is an extremely useful method of relaying this awareness much faster than we could of before but it is still people at its foundation that truly make this work. If anything, I’m noticing that the leaders of tomorrow will not be those who give the orders the best but those who instead help others by making them aware of more meaningful and relative information. In effect, these leaders are like some of the more popular websites on the web today. They are like a hub, relaying meaningful information from others to others so that everyone around them is more aware of what truly matters to them which in turn allows these people to live and work more effectively and enjoyably.