Over the last couple of months, I've been looking ahead at the next 10 or 15 years (as much as this is possible) and wondering how our notions of the digital community might evolve. Of course, all futurists know that beyond reading current trends and extrapolating as best we can from these, it's virtually impossible to accurately predict what's to come. History is rife with examples of unforeseen, wildcard innovations and discoveries that bring forth disruptive technologies and transform entire sectors of society.
However, what we know with a fair degree of certainty are many of the serious challenges that communities must tackle in the coming decades, both locally and as an integrated participant in the global community. This list must include climate change, sustainability, effectively educating children for the 21st century and competing in a global economy.
Meeting each of these challenges on the appropriate scale necessary to actually solve them is a massive undertaking. In many cases, we're only beginning to realize how massive.
Take sustainability, for example. Last year, with backing from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Earth Institute at Columbia University founded a commission to study how to change the education of policy leaders to better prepare them to work toward a sustainable world.
The conclusions of that commission, according to John W. McArthur, writing recently in The Huffington Post, was that trained professionals are needed at all levels of government, across all countries, who can connect practical problem-solving across specialized disciplines on a day-to-day basis. "Unfortunately the world does not yet train people for these tasks," McArthur wrote. "Our higher education systems overwhelmingly reward targeted, single discipline studies, while so many of the world's most pressing issues require solutions that draw systematically from insights across disciplines."
When we think of digital communities - not just in terms of evolving digital technologies, but also in the larger context of what we must solve, or even how we need to approach development of real solutions, the future becomes far less hazy.
And while it's easy to focus on the latest trend - be that cloud computing, social media or whatever - the more fundamental question is how will we harness the power and potential of the digital realm to assist communities to effectively tackle 21st-century challenges by implementing workable solutions?
The answer to that question, I believe, is worth pursuing collaboratively.
Image by Torley Linden. CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic