A few weeks ago I finished a book by Charles Montgomery called Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. A self-professed cosmopolite, I found the book enlightening and started thinking about my surroundings a bit differently. One idea that stuck with me is the impact of urban sprawl on fostering communities or maintaining close connections with other people. If I understood the concept correctly, city expansion can create urban sprawl, requiring people to commute further, generating more traffic, resulting in more time spent in transit rather than in community building. Urban sprawl also makes it more difficult to make and maintain physical connections with people. Everybody has to travel further, which takes more time. A lack of support in transportation options makes this connection even harder.
For some reason this idea stuck with me and I started thinking about the impact of urban sprawl in my world, records and information. It occurred to me that urban sprawl is manifested in what I started thinking about as communication sprawl. In the same way that habitation is spread out, we also also spread ourselves out with our communication methods. As our digital world and presence expands, our physical one shrinks and diminishes. Physical face-to-face interaction is being replaced by an incessant stream of tweets, posts, likes, updates, images, video, etc., much of which I would consider low-quality or transient.
The advent of social media, and other types of messaging/sharing apps, has made it very difficult to keep communications consolidated and centralized instead of employing multiple options to maintain contact. For example, I connect with my bookclub through Facebook, except for one member who’s not on it that has to be emailed separately. I usually coordinate through email and text with varying degrees of success, mostly because everybody can be reached. Some people prefer to message through LinkedIn. Another group I’m in has it’s own separate messaging functions.
It’s supposed to be “easier”, but I actually find it more challenging to remember who’s on which channel and to keep up with the quantity. As a result, my communication efforts become dispersed resulting in poor connections. I imagine this is similar to the challenges presented by urban sprawl around building solid communities.
The digital world offers great opportunities to build up communities, but sometimes it’s hard to take advantage of them in a way that results in quality and meaningful interactions.