Hyperlocal Hyperconnectivity - My Approach to Modern Social Media

 The Digital World: Hyperlocal Hyperconnectivity

We are thoroughly ensconced in a digital environment. The world around us is connecting at a faster rate, in more locations than ever, and all forms of media are pushing the envelope with this expansion. Local news is no longer just local; in many cases what was once actually covered by a local team, printed and distributed by local people, is now part of a multimedia conglomerate which may or may not have the true pulse of that local citizenry, business environment, or political timbre. Combine this with the nearly forced adaptation of remote connectivity in day-to-day activities because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, people are more than likely to turn to phones and tablets now. The powerful computing of these devices is ever-increasing, making ours a technological age.

Seven years ago I started researching this always-on phenomena that was taking over our society. Well before the pandemic changed everything, it was fairly well-known in the traditional media venues (television, radio, and print) that the status quo had shifted; more people were getting connected and producing their own content online, and the media as a whole was taking a hit in consumption of their products. Printed news was taking the worst hit, with the local agencies being sold off to investment firms and media conglomerates (if lucky) or shutting their doors after years - if not decades - of service to their communities. My findings culminated in a thesis for a master’s of science in television and media management, with the paper being published through Drexel University.

Hyperlocal Hyperconnectivity: How Managers Can Keep Local News Ahead of the Curve

Hyperlocal hyperconnectivity is a term used to describe the increasing interconnectedness of people and businesses at a local level. It is enabled by the use of technologies such as the internet, social media, and mobile devices. It combines the concept of “hyperlocal” - that microcosm of society which a neighborhood or small town may consist of as part of a larger region or demographic. It could expand to cover more than one town, but usually as a subset within a larger area. An example would be a subsection of a city (Fishtown, or South Philly, in the Philadelphia area) or perhaps a portion of a geopolitical demarkation - Lower Bucks County in eastern Pennsylvania. “Hyperconnectivity” is a newer concept, which describes the capabilities of the always-on/always-connected devices people carry with them daily. Cellular phones - which are now portable computers in their own right - as well as tablets and notebook computers, all keep information at the fingertips of the public. Anything can be researched through web searches, the answers available in moments now.

Just ask Siri, Alexa, or Google.

Hyperlocal hyperconnectivity has a number of potential benefits, including:

  • Increased communication and collaboration between people and businesses

  • Improved access to information and resources

  • Enhanced economic development

  • Increased civic engagement

We see these benefits every day; faster communication between friends and family, just a call or text away no matter where they are in the world. As long as there is a connection to a cell tower, the signal gets sent. This also includes access to information and resources - from news to maps, all at the touch of a screen. Our handheld devices have as much computing power (if not more) than some of those first home PCs - or even the bigger mainframe computers from the middle of the last century.

Economic development has improved over the past decade, with the enhanced capabilities of Near Field Computing and other enhanced connections that can attach to our portable devices, even small businesses and individuals can send and receive funds in an instant. 

Another aspect of hyperlocal hyperconnectivity is the prevalence of social media, allowing for the sharing of ideas and community with other people in the neighborhood - or around the world. In many ways this increases civic engagement, and in more recent years this has shown in the increased vocalization of the political dichotomy in the United States especially. Many credit this civic intercourse as having a direct impact on the ballot in the last few years, especially the presidential election in 2020 and the mid-terms in 2022.

However, there are also some potential risks associated with hyperlocal hyperconnectivity, such as:

  • The spread of misinformation and hate speech

  • The erosion of privacy

  • The potential for cyberbullying and online harassment

Misinformation has certainly been a problem from the early days of the public internet, but even moreso now than ever as more people have joined online groups and social media. Everyone has an opinion, whether based in fact or feeling, and often these are shared among other like-minded people. Unfortunately this can have a detrimental effect on society when more people embrace a less popular opinion, or deny the facts proven by years of research. Likewise, the derogatory, misogynistic, and racially charged speech finds a platform in the ether, drawing more people to embrace these less popular, and often considered backwards thinking, ideals.

Another issue that affects everyone equally is privacy. More individual parts of our lives are finding homes online, either because of personal records being digitized to more easily share in the health industry (and government), and we even do it to ourselves with social media postings of pictures, family events both good and bad, and favored content. Because of this, companies such as LifeLock are offering services to protect user information - and in some cases will reimburse for any losses incurred should there be a data breach. How much they have had to put out is questionable (compared to what they probably should be paying out, the compensation is more than likely a significantly smaller amount) and even how much they charge for this protection can arise the question of whether it’s worth it or not. Many of these protections are included with most bank and major credit card offerings, which adds to the question of what the value of LifeLock and others could be to the average person.

The last point, but definitely not least, is the increase in online harassment. Cyberbullying is often an anonymous attack on another, or a specific group, which ilicits a reaction ranging from depression to hatred, encourages harassment of the person or group, and very often is something one would not say in the presence of the target. Most commonly, this is an attack between younger generations, an extension of the peer pressure and bullying often found in grade schools. However, this is moving into the post-teenage, college level twenty-somethings as well, since they are the majority of the connected generation and this knowledge, combined with the more recent issues of isolation due to the pandemic, is a strong indicator that such behaviors are becoming normalized to some extent. Combined with the increasing amount of hate speech towards specific groups, the growing gap between diametrically opposed groups and political rivals who no longer look for the bipartisan solution fuels the increase in harassment and other hate speech.

Overall, hyperlocal hyperconnectivity is a complex phenomenon with both positive and negative implications. It is important to be aware of both the potential benefits and risks of this technology in order to use it in a way that is beneficial to society. While those who first designed and built the inner workings of the internet might have been altruistic in their expectations of the information-for-free plan behind the original networking, there is still hope for society as we continue to evolve and improve.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of how hyperlocal hyperconnectivity is being used in the real world; here are just a few:

  • Local businesses are using social media to connect with customers and promote their products and services.

  • Community groups are using online platforms to organize events and connect with members.

  • Governments are using hyperlocal data to improve services and make better decisions.

  • Schools are using online tools to connect with parents and students.

From individual freelancers, to global conglomerates, businesses and government entities are using social media to connect with the public, promote products and services they offer, and share news about what is happening with their business. Some offer specific online-only deals, or issue early news offerings and teases of upcoming events. Others provide industry newsletters, insights and detailed information about products and services. Government offices will share news about their departments, or events which might fall under their purview to help their constituents with services they offer. News agencies are finding more stories online - and often using this always-on connection to deliver breaking news even before it hits the traditional broadcast airwaves.

Community groups share with like-minded people around the world now, organize gatherings from local meetings to international expos, and in more recent years even hold meetings online thanks to livestreaming capabilities now readily available. It is getting easier to find everything from church services to therapy sessions, hold training classes or play games with remote friends. Again, so many things are available now because of people creating work-arounds for the pandemic, and these connections are becoming the norm instead of the exception.

As mentioned above, governments are utilizing hyperlocal hyperconnectivity to help their constituents. Improving services so they are performed faster, can be accessed remotely instead of having to spend time at a physical office. Updates to laws, guidelines, and other information is more often available online, in more public-friendly language than traditional “legalese.” Many government offices use livestreams and social media to reach out to their constituents, gather public opinion, and hold meetings of public interest.

COVID-19 brought schooling into the homes of families, since most public locations were shut down during the early months and height of the pandemic. While colleges had already been offering some classes online or in an online/in-person hybrid prior to this, it wasn’t until the world was locked down - especially in the US - that online coursework became normalized, and everything from preschool through grad school was completely online. It will probably be some time before the full effect of this online-only education can be evaluated, but many right now are claiming a detrimental effect on the average student’s performance and feel most have fallen behind due to the lack of in-person, hands-on training.

Suffice it to say, hyperlocal hyperconnectivity is a powerful tool that can be used for good or bad. Whether personally or professionally, It is important to use this technology responsibly and ethically. Our world is shrinking, with this always-on, always-connected capability in our homes and pockets, which should be improving relationships locally, regionally, and internationally; it is up to us as citizens of this globe to remember this and use it to work together. As President Lincoln said prior to the Civil War, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We are no longer just a globe of nations, but a global nation which must work together - and through hyperlocal hyperconnectivity we can create a more unified humanity.