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Neighborhood of the Future

I haven’t left my house today. But I’ve emailed friends halfway around the world, had a conference meeting over the Web with colleagues thousands of miles away, and viewed satellite images of a village in Africa. Tomorrow I might decide to view a video online made in Japan “minutes” earlier. The next day I will invest in a woman’s start-up in Cambodia. (We’ve never met.) My idea of neighborhood is ever changing—and will continue to in the years ahead. 

In the olden days (a few years ago), you would just email or text a group of friends if you wanted to meet for drinks. Now you can use Dodgeball, new mobile social software, on your mobile phone, instantly announcing to a group of friends where you will be. If you tell the software where you are, it will also locate friends of friends within a ten-block radius, so you can meet up. I recently moved to a town about twenty miles outside New York City, so it’s rare that I’m within a ten-block radius of my friends at this point, but it might be a fun way to surprise them the next time I’m “in town.” 

In 2006, Time Magazine named YouTube “person of the year.” It’s you, me, and everyone else. Recently, I spent two hours—which felt like two minutes—entranced by YouTube. The fun, chaotic user-generated content alongside professionally produced clips held my attention for longer than I anticipated. I couldn’t stop laughing at the Diet Coke/Mentos video. I forgot to look up LonelyGirl15 though. I had already read countless articles about her by then and was bored. 

MySpace: Population: 100 million. It gives new meaning to community. You can do virtually anything on this site. A few years ago I met a woman at a wedding who told me about how she’d met her current boyfriend on MySpace. It seems quaint by today’s standards, given that now everyone does a million things on this site: from finding a partner, making new friends, telling jokes and stories, reciting poems, acting out dramas, and singing songs to creating awareness, advertising talents, and selling new ideas and products. The list is endless. With millions of people watching each other on a daily basis, will we know each other any better than before? Is the person you are on MySpace the person you’ll be while walking down the street? At a party? On a date? With relatives? 

Google Earth™. From anywhere in the world, you can see other people’s streets, neighborhoods, famous landmarks, (possibilities are mindblowing), via a few clicks of your mouse. According to Google Earth blogger Frank Taylor, many users now map their favorite places on Google Earth and create collections for the rest of the world to view. Take the user in Holland who has a collection of visible shipwrecks that you can view online, via maps and other pictures. It’s unlikely this person would have been able to share this with me in the past—unless he sold a book about it. Or it wound up in a museum. Of course, now that users are locating their favorite places and people, advertisers have followed suit, playing “cyber host” to consumers in new ways. 

And with Web-based microfinancing hitting the headlines, you can truly get to know—and be invested in—people from all around the world, that normally you might not have known, due to cultural or economic differences. Kiva.org, a San Francisco–based non-profit, started Web-based microfinancing that enables anyone to become a microfinancier online. You can lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries. The Web site includes photos of loan recipients and the stories about them. Lenders can choose aspiring small business owners and make their own loans. You can help someone in the developing world start all kinds of businesses: a clothing vendor in Honduras, a fruit stand in Tanzania, or a general store in Samoa. 

Who will be your community in the future? Before you can answer, it’s already changed.

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