July 25, 2017

The Future of Community

I’ve used the ride-sharing app Lyft before, so I recently received an email from the company announcing their new charitable donations program. This is a great idea, and a great use of crowd-funding and the gig economy. But one line in the email struck me as off. Lyft has chosen non-profit partners that “align with values that represent the Lyft community.”

I’ve ridden in Lyft, so that makes me part of this community, apparently. But I’ve shared Lyft rides with people that are dear friends, and I don’t know that I would say our values align with each other, not to mention the millions of people around the world that use this service that I don’t know and will probably never talk to.

I think this points at something deeper. We want community. We, as human beings, need community so badly that we will say we are part of a community of people that like to save money on a convenient transportation option.

Community is essential. Research suggests isolation is bad for us. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent.

Does a ride-sharing service help me form this community? Does downloading and using an app help me form real connection?

The cynic in me sees this (and other similar, consumer-based “communities”) as a marketing ploy to make us feel good about our buying decisions. But this also points at the desire for people to create and join real communities.

Facebook is a firm believer that the idea of community is changing, and it wants to help. And we all know that the idea of a church community is changing. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I hope to spend the next couple of weeks writing some more about the idea of digital community for the modern age.

How is your community embracing new technology?