Bringing communities together — virtually

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By Mike Derman

People often worry that our society’s increased dependence on technology will create a tech-savvy yet anti-social generation and a new study from Ericsson ConsumerLab seems to back that up, showing that internet use for most people has quadrupled to 20 hours a week since 2004.

But websites such as rebuildyourcommunity.com are ensuring that technology and isolation don’t have to walk hand-in-hand.

The site launched in November of 2011 and is co-founded by Ryerson alumni Mario Pileggi and John Cowie.

Pileggi describes it as “a website that allows like-minded individuals to collaborate around issues that matter most to them.”

The site is free, and allows users to “follow” local communities to get live updates on things that could affect their daily lives, ranging from events to potholes. These updates often come from users, who register “micro-issues” on the site.

When an issue is registered, the location of the problem is determined and an email is automatically sent to the city councilor who is responsible for that area.

Pileggi said they added this feature so that the onus isn’t on citizens to track down the correct government agency to contact. It creates an open line of communication with – and accountability for – city council.

Tristan Downe-Dewdney, the constituency and planning assistant for Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, said their office hasn’t been contacted by the site much yet.

“I believe we’ve only received a direct email from the site once so far,” he said.

This small number isn’t shocking, considering the site’s relative infancy and the fact that the number of registered users is so far only in the hundreds according to Pileggi.

This is a number that he hopes to see grow, because he believes the site “has the potential to empower and energize individuals and communities.” Plus, bringing about change isn’t all the site is for.

“The micro-issues are literally one-tenth of what this is about,” he said.

As the name suggests, Pileggi said that he and Cowie would like to rebuild communities with this site, not just get potholes filled. So, among other things, businesses can inform people of special events in their area, and online groups can be made for people to get in touch with others in the same region.

Online communities are becoming increasingly common.

With features like Google Maps and Facebook integration – and the general explosion of social media – it seems like every site is trying to add a social component.

Click “Share” and all of your Facebook friends and Twitter followers will know that you’re buying a ticket to the upcoming Black Keys concert on Ticketmaster.ca.

You don’t have to just ask some friends to go with you to a movie; creating a “SCENEtourage” before catching whatever film will invite them along.

Or, if you feel like staying in and watching something online, you can sign-in to Facebook with Netflix or Sidereel.com so that you and that friend you haven’t seen since Kindergarten can stay informed on each other’s viewing habits.

Whether you’re trying to create “positive, local and direct change” like Pileggi with rebuildyourcommunity.com, or you just want to find out if anyone you know will be going to a concert, the old adage “No man is an island” remains true in the endless waters of modern technology.

“A significant portion of what we do online is engaging with others in a social context,” said the Ericsson ConsumerLab study. “So we are not becoming more anti-social. Rather the Internet is adding new facets to the ways we interact with each other. Just like it is changing the way we watch TV, not the fact that we are doing it.”

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