Remember life as it was in smaller communities in earlier times? Think of the English village or the Australian country town. These smaller communities shared some unique characteristics. Everybody knew each other, and they looked after each other. The notion of privacy was minimal. But their citizens were well connected, and the sense of community was really strong and personal.
But as technology changed, so too did the village. Consider the impact of transport. Suddenly the village became accessible to others, and it also gave the villagers the opportunity to move to new places either for work or to explore. Other technology changes like the telephone broke down the boundaries even more.
Today in the western world, the traditional village has become a mere shadow of its former self as the world has become more urbanised. We still use the term village, but more in the context of the so-called global village. Bill Gates once said “The internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”.
This concept of the global village has rapidly evolved. Take the idea of travellers being connected. Not so many years ago, travellers had to send postal letters home to friends and relatives, and chatting by phone was expensive and therefore a rare occurrence. But today, travellers can be connected instantly via phone or the internet, and can even have face-to-face contact using online video tools.
But this global village has come alive even more in the past five years or so via the various forms of social media that have exploded on the scene. Limited geographic dimensions no longer define how people connect or interact. Technology has changed the playing field, and indeed the language. People now “Google” something or “Skype” someone or “Tweet”. Such terms did not exist until the past ten years.
Of course, the global village is vastly different from the traditional village in many ways, especially in structure, appearance and behaviour. For instance, in the global village, we deal with strangers very differently. How many friends have we accepted on Facebook that we hardly know? How many followers do we have on Twitter whom we have never met, and indeed will not meet in a lifetime? How many times do we buy items from complete strangers across the other side of the planet? The traditional village was a far more intimate affair, and much more self-contained. A stranger was therefore viewed as an outsider, and may have been greeted with some caution.
But it is instructive to see the factors that are common, and to appreciate some of the lessons for our global village today, especially as they relate to social media. There are three of these.
The traditional village provided a strong and very personal connection for its members. The global village also provides connection, but across boundaries of nation states and any time day or night. Social media in particular has given huge impetus to this phenomenon. If we add up the users of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn combined, it totals a staggering number in excess of 1.5 billion. Yes there will be some overlaps in the numbers, but the point is that these three social media sites alone provide connection for an extraordinary percentage of the global population.
The traditional village was about a real sense of community. People were involved and visible in the activities of the village. The modern global village is also about community. It is about bringing people together around common interests. LinkedIn for instance has over 1.5 million discussion groups covering a vast array of topics and items of interest. This is a very different form and scale from the traditional concept of community, but the fundamental thread of linking people via common interests is the same.
The notion of pulling together to get the job done was a strong feature of the traditional village. This collaboration provided the real glue that enabled the village to thrive. Today the world of social media provides an extensive platform for collaborating around solutions to problems or gathering teams together for business activities such as product development.
Social media is a key element of the global village as we know it, and will continue to grow in influence in this space. Technology has changed the village in shape and scale forever, but some of the underlying fundamentals are as important today as they were when the local village was our way of life.