Blog 2: Information Needs of a Community
In order to sustain the most basic of communities, there needs to be a core web of connection that unites the citizens of a community and enables them to overcome their intrinsically individualistic tendencies. To be a true community, members must feel driven to look at their place in relation to those around them (though not necessarily “around” in a literal or physical sense); to look at their society as a whole rather than simply at their own little piece of existence. the most important way to build this connection is through information, and, more specifically, through a source that filters information and makes it relevant to the individuals of the community.
The prototypical example of this would be journalists, tasked with uncovering, discovering, and accumulating facts, analyzing those facts to develop a story, and finally putting that story into context and making it relevant to community members via the journalists’ own knowledge of those individuals, as fellow members of the community. However, this kind of information gathering-analyzing-distributing hub can exist in many forms. Newspapers and news media are probably the largest and most important source, but also community leaders, company emails, targeted advertisements, flyers hung in the window of a local restaurant – any source in which information has been gathered, filtered, digested, and made easier or more relevant to the audience is serving the needs of a community. Local newspapers such as The Columbia Tribune, search engines like Google which allow you to filter your results by category, location, or time, Mizzou deans and faculty members that send out mass emails relevant to the university’s community, and emergency broadcasts on local radio stations would all be examples of this. With the widespread popularity of the internet, it’s becoming even easier for groups and communities to create websites that automatically filter information and deliver a personalized experience and customized information tailored to fit each individual’s needs and desires (albeit at the potential cost of putting up blinders to new or different experiences). Some of the best local community websites have been rated and featured by the Suburban Newspapers of America, showcasing how effective new technology can be at bringing a community together by reaching out to and engaging its members. Other websites, like Wikipedia, yelp.com and even group pages on Facebook or other social networking sites can be great tools for spreading information and giving people what they want to know, without them having to go to great lengths to seek it out.
To participate in a community, individuals must know about about the community, whether it be about what kind of topics the city council is debating, where the local fair is taking place, who they should contact when they need questions answered, or what they should do in an emergency situation. If this information is not easily accessible, a community cannot exist; if this information is not actively distributing itself to citizens, the community cannot thrive. In order to have people engaging and becoming a part of the society, information must be saturating the environment, and not be a difficult commodity that must be sought out. There will always be a few people who go out of their way to find out how to get involved in local politics, or intramural sports, or an art fair, or whatever other part of the community, but for the vast majority of people, unless there is a source which filters through the oceans of information and delivers what is relevant to them, in an organized and understandable manner, they will never get involved and both they and the whole community will be the poorer for it. Making citizens feel like they are part of the community will, in turn, make them become even more a part of the community, and thus strengthen the individuals and the whole.