Let's support the oldest social network: Neighborhoods & f2f interactions

Hello, I am new here, but it feels to like I have been searching for a community like this for years. My name is Torsten and I am a sociologist, currently living in Japan.
I have spent years of my life studying the technology induce change our society is going through and while I am still fascinated by the possibilities of digital media and technology, I share your concern that at the moment, we are moving towards a dystopia that is optimized to make people watch ads. At the same time, we are missing a chance for real progress and it is initiatives like this, that can turn this around.

Years ago, I thought about a way to counter this trend and since then I am looking for allies that can help to build a viable alternative not just to social media, but TV, streaming services and alike. A way to support each individual to really connect with the other people, in real life.

I think one of the biggest problems I see today is the growing social isolation we witness in almost any city in the world. While more and more people live in urban environments, single households and media consumption are going up. The public space has been moved from town squares and markets to the privacy of our home or the palm of our hands. And so we are less and less engaged with the people near us - paradoxically despite the fact that we are constantly surrounded by them. Social ties between neighbors are getting weaker every year and so solidarity and communal exchange are eroding.

While this issue has been accelerated by digital technology, it is by no means new. There are whole bookshelf (or if you want server farms) filled with literature & research about urban alienation, starting with the rise of the modern city and mass media.

However, up until recently, we didn’t have the means to develop scalable tools to actively work against this development. And while I am not a developer myself, I believe today we do.

In order to start talking about the solution, let me ask a question:
Why do people choose to watch TV, check their Facebook or binge watch a show on Netflix instead of exploring events and activities around them? Why do we consume this content, knowing that it will not make us happy or gives us sustainable satisfaction?

While all tricks of modern UX design surely play a role, I think, the basic answer and the root cause for this behavior is inertia. It is simply much easier to turn on the TV or take out the phone from our pocket than to get up from our chair and connect with the world around us.
Plus mass or social media is less risky, not just that there is always something happening, 24/7, but also if we would - as an alternative - get up and leave the comfort of our home or our well-known path from our job to our flat, what exactly would we do?

Let’s do an experiment - I promise I am going to talk about the solution very soon. Let’s say you find yourself with some time at your hand. Maybe you finished work early and all your friends are busy and let’s say you are tired of watching and reading and liking and you want to do something. You live in a city and there are literally tens of thousands of people around you. There must be something happening right now near you that is more interesting to you than the latest episode of Big Bang Theory… but how do you find out about it?

Sure, you could google something. However, if you try today to search something you have to fight your way through 100 of websites, unwieldy sitemaps, stupid calendars and what not, so soon you would abroad soon and sigh…just watch the damn episode.

So this is what I want to build. A digital service that would just do this, compile and map all public activities and events that happen around me at this very moment (or in an hour or tomorrow and so on). Something that would make it easy and convenient for anyone to do something else, anything else than use the computer, tv or smartphone and spend time in the real world with other people. Something that takes human inertia into account so to say.
Basically, I am talking about something like Google maps, but instead of optimizing it for going from A to B it is gear towards exploring the world around the user and provide countless alternatives to media consumption.

I think all the ingredients are already there, we just have to piece together. If this works, it would create a real opportunity to strengthen local communities and neighborhoods. It would make people meet each other, face to face once again (just like it was in the olden days) and create a better understanding between all of us. This is especially true if in a second iteration this map could be enriched by everyone.

I strongly believe that by meeting people in real life humans overcome prejudice and realize the shared humanity we all have. Meeting and experiencing someone offers a chance to understand them in depth and the best way to get to know to someone is through a shared interest or activity. So if there would be an easy, low effort way to connect with the people around me through public activities, I think, it would greatly contribute to an increased degree of social cohesion in our cities. Over time, this could build up to a renaissance of urban communities and I have no doubt it could contribute to the solve the misery we are currently in.

I have more to say about this - for example, how this is first about finding public activities, because connecting people directly doesn’t work and that by public activities I mean everything that happens public from soccer training to concerts to town hall meetings and how we could use artificial intelligence and open source technology to create this - but I will leave this now as it already has gotten quite long.

While I do believe public awareness about the danger of technology is important, I think, it is even more important to offer ways out and I hope this idea could just be that.

If this resonates with you, I would appreciate a comment or message.

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Hi there -

There’s a lot there. I’ll respond only to a bit of it. UX design doesn’t merely apply to digital spaces; it applies to the physical architectures within which we live. For example, older cities (Boston) have commons and plazas; free, relatively unstructured space. Newer cities, particularly those built to suit the advent of cars and driving, may have relatively fewer similar spaces, or have spaces focused on structure (like bike paths) rather than serendipity (like squares and plazas). It certainly feels that way. Yet these spaces often provide the kind of outside-the-house leisure and positive, accidental social interaction that we seem to seek.

In Atlanta, for instance, our resident building architect was astute enough to create a patio with a firepit and tables immediately in front of the front door, which forces people to walk past other people sitting & sparks a variety of neighborly conversations. Smartphones are present, but often put down to have conversations. In that way, it’s a serendipitous space that has helped us form a neighborly community. On the other hand, many of the new buildings feature, say, reservable party lounges (which promote socialization, but reserved, shaped socialization). When we lived in those units, we barely knew our neighbors – and we weren’t accidentally lucky to see them frequently.

So, when we state that “The public space has been moved from town squares and markets to the privacy of our home or the palm of our hands,” one looks closely not only at the digital architectures that we’ve created, but at the physical architectures as well. I believe we have a need for more serendipitous, open, non-reservable, unavoidable spaces - squares, plazas and the like - in both physical and digital formats.

Cheers,
–Dave

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Have you used the Nextdoor app? It’s intended to help neighborhoods connect. Not quite what you’re referring to, but it might be one worth checking out.

I also have a sociology background myself (PhD in that + human-computer interaction with a BA in computer science), so I understand what you’re talking about. I’m working through something right now that I can’t talk too much about as I’m going through a patent filing that gets at some of this as well. Watch the Socie.tech space and hopefully in the coming weeks or month I’ll be able to share more publicly.

Also, I’ll be in Japan in April. Happy to grab a drink if we both have time.

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European cities are the exception to this (most of them). I suppose their small size played a big role on this because it’s impossible to depend a lot on private transportation within small cities, so you are “forced” to interact with others in the public transport. Also, Europe invested in public transportation while, as far as I know, the US didn’t (Japan did but the problem I find with Japanese cities is their size and their design).

I think depending on your car to go everywhere alienates people and divides societies into classes, because those with the money to buy a car will never get to see those less fortunate, so you never notice a complete half of your society. I noticed this in Mexico: I was a posh girl with my own car knowing nothing about the struggles of others, but when I moved to Europe and used the subway I realized that here you get to SEE the whole thing. Even though it was less comfortable than having my own car, I prefer the European way. Public transportation and public spaces make us all equals, no one better than others.

I am a Catholic Christian and this Lent, I am putting my iPhone on airplane mode, beginning on Ash Wednesday until Easter Morning. Each Weekend we will be visiting the home of one of our Friends or Family, playing Board Games and attending Church with them. My goal is to spend this Lent with meaningful, in-person, relationships. We’ve spent too much time behind the screen.

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Hi Torsten. Funny, my last name is Fischer too! I’m working on something similar to what you are thinking about. In early stages. : )

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Hey Anastasia, that’s cool. Seems like we share a lot, I’d be interested in learning more about your project. What’s the best way to get in touch?

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Yes, I know Nextdoor, the problem I see with is it is similar to most other platforms still aims to make people spend as much time on their platform as possible, whereas I think, the goal should be to make people as much time as possible with other people.
Socie.tech looks promising, would be interested to learn more about it.
I ll shoot you an email to coordinate…

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Hey, thanks for this. You are adding some valuable points. I do believe however that technology, specifically digital maps, can augment physical structures and thereby make hidden places available. The user experience often differs from the intentions of design and people use public spaces as they like (or can). Skateboarding is probably the most popular example for this.
Sourcing already organized public activities and events is just the first phase. Once there is a significant amount of people using such a service, we could enable everyone to post everything that they want to publish to their community. This can range from the search for chess partner to invitations to public BBQs that you mentioned to activities in the context of other events (fan gatherings during a football match). I think, there is huge potential to reappropriate public areas and this should exactly be the way we want to use our phones, as a tool to get closer to the people around us. At the moment my local exploration radius is limited by my own sense, by what I hear or know. A digital map with everything that happens around me would extend my possibilities for serendipity by several magnitudes. Exactly because it is not limited to the visual borders that you mentioned…
Best, T

Hi.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas.
I will comment only on your hypothesis, that the root cause is inertia. I think this is problematic because there is an underlying understanding of humans which seems to be that they are lazy. I would argue that the inertia might be a symptom of other roots like working too much, too less time etc. (A recommended read about this would be Rutger Bregman, Utopia for realists.)

And shortly another thought: I don’t really understand the differences to other networks, where activities are published except it would be a summarize. But doesn’t Facebook shows me similar information?

Best,
Lena

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Absolutely. Skateboarding is a fantastic example and there are many, many more.

Therein lies the contradiction for ‘humane technology’ to figure out: digital tools can add significant value to our lives. How does one construct responsible digital tools that can be applied when needed, but that respect boundaries when not? Or, tools that can be applied when needed, but that themselves do not draw a user into psychological tunnel-vision?

Absolutely- enjoy your friends and family! Hopefully more people will do this.

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hi Mike, interesting intro you have on socie.tech…

Regarding Nextdoor… my neighbours were introducing this app in our neighborhood, but - while the idea of the app sounds great - having read their privacy statement, this app basically spies on you as you spy on your neighborhood :slight_smile:

So I decided not to install it on my phone…

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Here is the exodus privacy report on next door app:
https://reports.exodus-privacy.eu.org/reports/1673/
7 trackers and 21 permissions, including crazy ones like ability to read all call history, all sms, all contacts, start as soon as the phone is started… SMH it’s not nextdoor, it’s backdoor

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Wow… crazy! Thank you Valere, exodus is going onto my phone for sure :slight_smile:

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Hey Lena,

I don’t think that humans are necessarily lazy - some are, others are not. More importantly, there is a big difference between inertia and laziness. Being a physical term first and foremost, inertia refers to the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion. Applied to humans, it means that we are creatures of habit and once we established a certain habitual behavior, it takes a lot of effort to change it.
It is the reason why people watch TV, even though they don’t like it, or eat unhealthy food. The familiarity of a well-known habit gives you the feeling of comfort and safety, so if you are offered choice, most of us will do what we used to.

Many digital platforms try to exploit this trait for their purposes. Companies like Facebook or Twitter create their service in a way that is habit-forming. They create reasons why you should check your profile over and over again - that is the reason for example why you will always have a notification when you to your Facebook feed. The red alert creates the impression that you are missed something while you were gone. This makes you subconsciously aware that you should come back, and therefore you get used to visiting Facebook first thing when you open your phone or your laptop.
This approach has been turned into a methodology by Nir Eyal, see the book “The Hook Model”.

Facebook’s main purpose is not to make you explore events around you, in fact, I think it does a very bad job at this, but maximize the time you spend on their services. What I have in mind is to offer people choices on what they can do instead of spending time in front of a screen. If you live in a city there is always something happening around you, always. You are surrounded by thousands of people and all of them are doing something right now. Chances are that one of them is doing something that you would enjoy as well. I want to build a system that would make it more likely to find that someone.
Instead of building another so-called social network, I envision a tool that lets the user do two things:

  • Find activities and public events around them happening at this very moment
  • Create and publish activities and events of themselves, so people can join them if they want to

I don’t want to maximize the time they spend on this tool, but rather fulfill a function, a purpose.
My hope is that if you give people a choice to meet other people in real life to do something that both (or all) of them are interested in, it would create enough energy to make them overcome their inertia and change their habit.

Cheers,
T

hi @zehnfischer,

Yes, exactly! We share a common cause here. Using tech to get you off your seat, outside, and interacting in real life with others is a main driver of my startup ideas, that I am working on…
Let’s get the attention back to all those wonderful activities that are happening around you and are as much fun, or even more so, than what you do online!

Thanks for the book reference. Looks like a valuable buy! I was already convinced that having a utopian vision helps to attain concrete goals… and to keep course without losing our values. Will buy!

like aifischer5, i’ve also been working on a solution to this!!! if you guys would be interested in talking about what we’re working on, or possibly working together, i’d be really interested in talking with you!!!

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It’s an interesting and worth goal you are proposing. I think for SF there’s already a good start on this and you can learn from it or critique it. http://sf.funcheap.com/

I guess I would ask how your mission statement is different from theirs.