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The Future of Digital Communities

Article published in The Disconnect and translated in Italian for Istmo, based on the Pluralism in Digital Communities project.

What was once a promising opportunity to grow pluralism—the idea that encourages the coexistence of different opinions, beliefs, and ways of life—has become a wild-west accused of exacerbating fear of the other, promoting extremes, and spreading disinformation. It’s clear that social media is currently at a crossroads, and with it the digital communities that call these platforms home. Under this context, it might be more telling to consider what the future of digital communities might look like instead.

While digital communities follow some of the norms, structures, and rules of traditional communities, they are drastically different. For example, due to their novelty, simplicity, and methods of engagement, the fates of these communities are intertwined with the platforms upon which they are built, and they can often proliferate without even acknowledging that they are communities. Because of this, they lack many of the practical and conceptual requirements of being a stable, recursive collective that can manage and evolve itself to remain relevant in society.

This leads us to ask the question of whether our current digital communities are, at best, a flawed design, or at worst, a complete mistake. In the hopes of answering this question, the two of us interviewed multiple experts versed in a wide range of digital communities—from social media, to the sharing economy, to social civic networks. These individuals spoke on the fate and evolution of digital communities, raising diverse perspectives on the influence of emerging technologies and the role digital communities currently play in our society. Through these interviews, we have identified three recurring themes—decentralization, contextual interaction, and digital collectivism—that if addressed with resolve, could allow digital communities to evolve into stable, diverse, and human-focused collectives.

by Christophe Bruchansky and Shane Saunderson

Special thanks to Clayton d’Arnault for his editing and support.

Social: evolversi o morire

Artwork di Emiliano Bergonzi per Istmo.

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