Response: Definitions of community in the 21st century

Published:  June 18, 2013
Response: Definitions of community in the 21st century

The latest issue of Desktop examines community – both its role in the design industries, and the role that design can play in creating and shaping communities. Community is a concept that has changed radically over the years, and technology has enabled new types of communities to emerge.

To get a sense of the many different possibilities and interpretations of community today, we asked six people from different fields and backgrounds the question “What is your definition of community in the 21st century?” . There was a slight mix-up in the version of this feature that went to print, so we’re publishing the corrected and complete feature here today.

Our guests for this edition of response are Seb Chan, Robyn McDonaldTina Roth Eisenberg (aka Swiss Miss), Sali Sasaki, Jess Scully, and Aaron Moodie.

Seb Chan
Although it is tempting to talk about globalisation and telecommunications as creating a global ‘community’, I think more of community as still being hyper-local and geographically constrained, and global connections better described as a ‘network’. Networks can be harnessed, but a ‘community’ can be relied upon in times of crisis and need. That difference is crucial. The challenge of organising collective action nowadays is about transforming a ‘network’ into a cluster of communities acting in unison. I don’t think we have the correct tools for doing that yet. Maybe that was always the challenge – and we’ve just lost sight of that in our rush towards the bright shiny objects of the social web?

Robyn McDonald
The local is now global. It’s something we know intellectually (even as a cliche), but do we really appreciate the power of this shift? For the first time in human history much of the world is connected. We can join 21st century communities that resonate with us, adding our voice for social justice, environmental activism, regime change, etc. We can decide our own rules of connection. Look at the power and achievements of online communities like GetUp,, Kickstarter and the ‘Arab Spring’ activists – all products of the communications revolution. However if we are to effect real change, to save the planet from the worst vicissitudes of unchecked capitalism, we have to do much more than just click ‘like’ on our Facebook pages.

Tina Roth Eisenberg
One of my favorite things about the internet most recently is that it has brought so many groups of people together. We now have the option to have both a physical community, such as the one I have with my studiomates in our Brooklyn studio, and an expansive digital community. If your physical and digital communities are both nurturing, happy places to be, good things will most definitely happen. I’m someone who will always try to support, build, and give back to the people around me, because I know that they would do the same for me. I know for sure that it is important, in this digital age, to find and nourish the kind of collaborative thinking that comes out of a community.

Sali Sasaki
Community in the 21st century is about collective action rooted in creative thinking and concentrates on local quality of life. The most thriving communities will be those that work to move beyond conventional definitions and will be formed by networks of people with various sets of skills, experiences and backgrounds. The challenge of 21st century communities is to develop around what we already have as opposed to what we want to have. In that sense, the key role of communities in the 21st century is to sustain the relevance of local assets within a global context.

Jess Scully
People who laugh at your jokes. Ok, maybe they don’t have to laugh at the jokes, but they have to get them. Your community could be people on a message board who like the same music you do (or love to hate the same music); they could be people in your neighbourhood, who understand what you’re talking about when you make gags about the Newtown Gnome Thief or the too-loud pizza delivery scooters that rip up the street. They could be people in your industry – either in your city or anywhere the world – who can commiserate over similar client horror stories, laugh at the same YouTube clips, and curse and love the same tools.

Location has always been a constant around which relationships are formed. Communities may vary in their shared characteristics and interests, but the need for centralisation is something that all have shared–until recently. No longer fixed by location, we are free to partake in events, discussions and markets globally. All from the comfort of our kitchen table. This to me the idea of community in the 21st Century. Redefined through the ability to bring people together no matter their location.

This interview was first published in Desktop #294 — In The Neighbourhood

Tina Roth Eisenberg photo by Ella Smolarz

Enjoyed reading this feature? You can find more like it inside Desktop magazine. Take a look at this month’s subscription special.


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