Pushing Back the Digital Wave

“You can’t just say let’s have all this macroeconomic growth and not focus on every district . . . Make sure that you understand that it is a bad thing for America that my district has $10 trillion of company value and other districts are totally in despair.”

– US Congressman Ro Khanna, Democrat representing Silicon Valley district.

Ahh, the digital economy. Supercharged with opportunities your city, county or region can't afford to miss. Software companies. Gaming companies. Silicon chip foundries. Silicon chip designers. Software-as-a-service companies. Makers of computers, tablets, phone and smart watches. Social media companies. Ecommerce companies. Video streaming companies. It’s a vast digital wave washing across the world.

The Downside

But you know there’s a downside, right? You understand that the digital economy is also pushing your community the wrong way. The signs are everywhere if you know what to look for. It’s concentrating prosperity among the best educated, most affluent families. Prosperity is no longer lifting all boats like a rising tide. It’s poking holes in the hull. It is pushing the accelerator to the floor on economic changes and dislocations that once took decades to play out, that once gave us time to adapt. Now, they seem to happen every year. It's deepening the economic divides that leave so many people feeling left behind. It’s spreading lies that crank up the normal tensions of society into imagined conspiracies that we pass back and forth in our partisan tribes.

That's a lot for people and the place called home to handle.

Pushing the Other Way

Some are handling it better. They’re called Intelligent Communities. Not for their brainpower – but for the power of their people. They are communities pushing in the other direction. Toward prosperity that includes more of their citizens, not fewer. Toward strong social connection and civic engagement. Toward celebration of rich local cultures that give more meaning to life than people can ever get from a screen.

They’re not just the big cities with famous names. They are midsize cities and small ones, and the rural lands with more trees or farm animals than people. They are places determined to seize the opportunities that digital brings.

They are technology savvy – but they make sure technology gives more to people's lives than it takes away. They are economic go-getters – but they believe that opportunity is something to share and innovation is a social event. They are problem-solvers – but the problems they solve are not about making cities smarter. They're about making better lives, better communities, better dreams for the future.

Intelligent Communities. Check them out.

Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research, analysis and content development activities.

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