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.