Summary Notes from @SpurFest #spur15 – “Alone, Together: A Civic Life in the Digital Age” [Appel Salon Series]

Tonight, I had the luxury of spending my Thursday evening in a room filled with Torontonians curious about learning more and engaging on the topic of digital connectedness. Upon reviewing the event details for tonight’s panel discussion, I was immediately reminded of the books: Hamlet’s BlackBerry” (William Powers) and “The Circle” (Tom Eggers).

The topic of technology and connectedness is very important, especially nowadays, as technology is often seen as a tool that can be both beneficial and detrimental. See the Toronto Reference Library’s website for tonight’s event summary.

The notes below were mostly taken verbatim — apologies in advance for any grammatical errors. Hope you enjoy!

  • Opening
    • Yvonne Hunter, head of the Appel Salon Series @ Toronto Reference Library
      • Can download e-books and music and videos
      • A critical community hub to foster a sense of belonging and dialogue
      • Alone, Together: The changing face of community in a mobile and digital world
  • Panel
    • Moderator: Bronwyn Drainie
  • Idea of Community = defined in hundreds of thousands of ways
    • Opening story: A person being invited to a Ukranian Orthodox church. His experience in-person at church did not feel like community. Rather, thousands of people watching the Oscars together at the same time and connecting online is community to him.
    • Internet – has made us more connected and less connected. Both are correct
    • Technologists and activists are also creating their own definition of community
  • Helen Menzie
    • Crisis of disconnection – how do we reconnect?
    • Scottish living on the Commons – people and land together; working together for mutual sustainability. Leadership within. Walked on the land of her ancestors – walked the land where they farmed, had cattle, hiked the trails of her ancestors.
    • Songs – “I See” – sharing of experiences of their storied connection to the land
    • 3 insights
      • Endearing importance of geography – shared habitats still matter. (Re: We Are Cities Mov’t).
      • Community is a verb. It’s doing stuff together; forming common cause. Reconnecting people through habitat. Jane’s Walks. (Look up this website online.) Locally grounded communities, where people come to engage with themselves to form a common good.
      • Community is a hybrid = the old fashion + digital communication. Former, to build trust and empathy and the latter to connect at a greater scale
  • Susan Pinker
    • A well-accomplished journalist
    • new book: “The Village Effect” – psych, bio brain research of impact technological change is having on our lives
    • Question: What kind of social contact do you need to be healthy, happy, and live long lives? (She asks this question in the her book.)
      • Social science – how what goes on in our brains effects our relationships
      • Started her book in Toronto. Puzzled by why women live longer than men. (This is not true in Italy – men live as just as long as women)
    • Facts to think about = lots of scientific evidence about being more face-to-face social interaction
      • People who get together to eat a meal, meet at Starbucks, go out for beers, play bridge, play hockey – have a 2-15 year life advantage over loners
        • E.g. Study of nurses – those diagnosed with breast cancer, those with largest in-person social networks had a higher chance of surviving
      • Resilience to viruses/bacteria, stress levels, tumour growth.
      • Lifestyle issues placed into a mix – research has been done on longevity of life; longitudinal studies.
        • social contact predicts how long you will live
      • 2 types of social contact
        • intimate bonds – those we call when we’re in trouble (e.g. your partner, family, best friend; 3-4 people)
        • Social integration – how much you get out there and participate in your community (E.g. how much you see people even casually. Even your neighbours. Do you go to church and stay afterwards to catch up? Do you meet up with people on weeknight?)
      • So this is a strong predictor of how long people will live
    • It is important to think of these issues now, because we have never been lonelier than we are now. Ever.
  • Michelle Hamilton-Page
    • A social activist; a disease: “e-notification”. Started a data visualization platform…that started in Kenya. Ushahidi.
    • Think about: What mental health means to you in your own life?
      • Spirituality, community, physical wellness… when you’re not feeling well, where do you go?
      • Map out where you go for places of “Wellness” – E.g. An email, going to church, etc.
    • Very little on mental health promotion (lots on sexual health promotion)
      • Ontario campuses wanted to start promotion of resilience towards mental health
      • Social determinants of health – gender, education, socioecon status, sexuality, etc. Understanding the impacts of social determinants first.
    • Ushahidi (Swahili for “to testify/witness”; corruption during elections in Kenya) – a crowdsourced platform that maps what “wellness” means.
      • Workshops were run across campuses – coordinates of where people go for wellness was mapped.
      • Newcomers were interviewed as well and mapped
      • (60 students who stayed together formed this). An app for civic engagement that maps corruption via
      • Now this can be used to map wellness approaches; there is a social community around this now (E.g. I like to go on the DVP… response: don’t, it’s rainy there now…)
      • Reports can be aggregated and pinned to a map and used for humanitarian reasons and send to servicing practitioners.
      • Question is: how can we leverage this data and start conversations with the community/government to address different issues/concerns?
  • Open debate and discussion:
    • Rate of depression – of people who surround their lives around their gadgets only
    • In Germany – there’s an app telling people where fruit is ripe; community building on the ground and digitally. A hybrid way. High-tech and high-touch.
    • Small communities are powerful, but it’s not all for the good. There are vendettas that have gone on for generations in some communities.
    • There are downsides of face-to-face effects too: scam artists and persuasion (if you don’t understand the science behind it). E.g. Mother’s apple pie…
    • Path of least resistance (towards face-to-face communication) – it’s so much easier not to have to put up to people who will contradict what you will say, jealously, etc. It’s easier, cheaper, faster, and more convenient.
    • For Michelle – What effect does working online vs those in-person humanitarians
      • ( “…found my home in the WWW.”) — some people who are from smaller cities do feel more sense of communities online, what’s online (mapping of situations) are done by actual people, who are sensing this in person. There is in-real-life contact.
      • Choosing to work remotely is not the same a being a digital humanitarian, but people do work remotely, because they can connect globally with other people
      • The view of “working remotely” = glow of screens…but there’s a global split to how people see working remotely
    • Technology Dichotomy
      • digital technology = digital highway – a way for people to collect data and lots of it to use
      • connectivity = building/establishing online friendships and taking them offline
      • poor are getting poor = those not as technically savvy lack the advantage of those above or those who can’t take their connections online, offline
        • gaps can widen a gap when the expectation is that the technology would narrow the gap
    • Mapping App
      • East Vancouver – community development that has been very participatory. E.g. Prostitutes. Women were asked to put themselves on maps and to place X’s where women had been murdered and where dangerous Johns would go.
    • The hallowing out of the middle class, because of computers taking over a lot of the jobs.
      • Many young men who are now under-employed
      • What we see coming out of this is: Space-Sharing. More platforms where people share.
    • Question: What’s wrong with being alone? (Introverts enjoy being alone)
      • When it’s in a chronic way, there is something wrong with being alone
      • People have different appetites for social contact; we’re individuals and have different needs (i.e. some people need more alone time than others)
        • Studies show that if introverts need it and don’t get it, they start feeling uncomfortable…
      • Loneliness is subjective
        • If you’re alone and you’re happy about it, then it’s ok. If you’re alone
      • BUT, there are 3 things shorten lifespan by 30%:
        • Living by yourself (see less people in a day)
        • Socially isolated (how many people they talk to in a day, how many do they see?)
        • Having no one to talk to when they feel lonely (nowadays, there are fewer people society feels that they can talk to when they are lonely)
      • Loneliness is a U-shaped function. It’s high for adolescence and young adults, and pops back in the early 60s
    • Empathy Deficit = when people start feeling lonely, they lose the ability to see the benefits of coming together in community
    • There are 20% of people who have no people to talk to when they
    • Solitude vs. isolation
      • Aloneness is actually a privilege sometimes
  • Public Questions
    • How does one find their balance for the right amount of connectivity and being alone?
      • Reflect on where you gain your energy (re: Meyer’s Briggs on introvert and extrovert)
      • Use your online work to amplify and not to replace
    • Africans are now living shorter lives after adopting many Western lifestyles (e.g. diet, etc.). How to draw the line between modernization and staying healthy?
      • Important to start the conversation to make people more aware.
      • Becomes a public health issue and a community issue
      • Crowdsource it. Get people to engage with how they can use new tech to make their lives better, not to affect them
    • Augmenting wearable technology to affect how we can connect more socially?

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