Cities Turn To Rubble

I’ve been reading articles over the past year by a number of people amongst them John Naughton, Luis Villazon and Stephen Baxter who have all give some views about how the current technology is influencing our society. Stephen Baxter wrote a fantastic piece in BBC Focus magazine a few months back about it which was a vision of how people will work in small communities and the idea of cities will just that since they will have broken down and the people dispersed. 

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

I do like considering how the technology in our society influences us both on a daily basis and also in a more ambient and subtle way over a long period to make changes that are felt across the globe. A good example of this is the way people have integrated mobile phones into their lives. Love them or hate them they now form part of our connected presence. I regularly use my iPhone to pick up emails and to book events or browse the web when I’m on the move. I see people using their phones all the time. This is not just a western but a global phenomenon. 

There are potentially much bigger changes however happening across our society and in western culture the economic downturn and destabilization of transport services through industrial action in the UK is influencing people to think seriously about video conferencing and conducting meetings remotely (VR, Unified Comms, etc.) – A good example within the OU of this is that last year we hosted a big conference called “Making Connections” which was well attended. This year it has been decided to run this as a “virtual event” and Martin Weller is leading the organisation of the event which takes place this Summer and I’m contributing my knowledge and support with the technologies for it and Elluminate are partnering with us to provide the event. There will be a number of nationally and internationally renowned keynotes however I’ve been asked to keep quiet about the lineup until it’s officially launched.


The whole event will be organised to be available totally online and will be location neutral. I’ll be interested to see how successful it is but it’s just one of thousands of meetings that now take place in the virtual rather than by a traditional face to face method and academia is actually behind commerce in embracing the use of new technology to support distributed meetings. 

Other influencers are the green issues and the combination of green and economic is driving people to consider purchasing locally, reducing their travel costs and to grow their own food and become more self sufficient. I was at a wedding a few months ago with friends who are scattered across the globe, with ages ranging from mid twenties to mid forties, and the conversation turned naturally during the meal to the things we’re all growing ourselves. I was amazed that almost everyone at the table was growing their own fruit and/or veggies in some cases in such large quantities that they were providing it for their local community. 

So whilst I don’t think that cities are going to turn to rubble overnight (you only need to look at the population figures for greater London to see that cities are still doing very well thank you!) I do think that over a long period of time the things that are currently moving people subtly in a particular direction, using cycles rather than driving, buying locally, travelling less, communicating online rather than in person etc. will impact more on our society on how we live. 

traditional farming

traditional farming

The idea of smaller well connected  ‘village like’ groupings, forming their own socio-economic communities and becoming much more self sufficient is one that harks back to the wartime but also seems to be in tune with how the world is shaping up today.

About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

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