Week after week headlines are dominated by news stories about rapid technological advancements and the pursuit of post-human utopias. Fear of human irrelevance has grown faster than ever before and it is not all unfounded grief. The thing that’s not getting written about enough is what we can do to overcome and manage life with machines rather than the narrative of replacement.
In understanding what robots will never be able to do it is essential we revisit the things that give us purpose in life—human connections and the essence of community. To do this, I spoke to local Canon City, Colorado resident, Toma Bedolla, Co-Founder and CEO of Communal, about what drove him to move to rural Colorado and what he’s been up to that makes him so excited about Canon City.
Reimagining Rural Towns as Vibrant Community Hubs
Small cities, often seen as retirement communities or tourist pass-throughs, can quickly redefine their identities by nurturing a vibrant downtown culture. Take Canon City, Colorado for example, a small town with a population of roughly 17,000 that possesses walkable access to white-water rafting, mountain biking, and world-class bouldering, among other attractions. Local business owners and service providers are the foundation of this little town. A stroll down Main Street at 8:00 am and you’ll get to see the people who make this city click come out to wake up with each other, catch up about their families and life, then go out to their storefront or hop in their truck to turn on the lights of Cañon City.
“While small cities often bear the stereotype of feeling limited and disconnected, they possess the untapped potential to redefine themselves and embrace their unique qualities,” said Bedolla. It’s why his new company, Communal, described as a community engine, aims to catalyze the collaborative collisions of people and businesses that share a zip code with events and experiences to transform the city into a thriving community.
Bedolla described the motivation driving him, “The bunker mentality that was amplified by the pandemic has far too many of us living life through Amazon delivery and social media timelines. We’ve all been pushed into a techno-utopia that’s been great for Big Tech’s stock prices but has, ultimately, dislocated the heart from our humanity—the warm, human connection that is community. That can’t be the final destination of humanity’s evolution. Can it?”
Embracing Human Connection and Community
We’re entering our third epoch of an Internet-enabled world with the introduction of AI. The first was the introduction of the world wide web. Businesses and individuals established their presence with e-commerce websites and personal blogs. This initial establishment of the web led us into what Bedolla calls “the social phase” where we started to create a second life online. “We revealed how we are all connected or wish to be connected on various platforms and networks. The divisions and tribalism that were already present were amplified and reinforced. We found ways to fit in and validate our ways of thinking, our ways of living, and our need to be validated. What’s next? Understanding who and what to trust.”
The importance of human connections, inclusivity, and collective well-being cannot be understated, especially in an age of dis- and misinformation. If we head into a world where we can’t trust anything that’s not in front of our face, we will struggle to maintain a democracy across nation-states and large populations. But this isn’t as true for small towns and local communities that have lived with, and by, each other for millennia. As Douglas Rushkoff recently stated in his book Survival of the Richest, “Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.”
To foster strong community bonds and prioritized human-centric development, Communal is bringing events to rural communities like Canon City that are focused on food, music, and experiential education—things machines won’t be great at for some time to come, if ever—to showcase the best of our humanity, things we mutually need or crave, to turn our connections into engagement and shared experience. Technology connects without bias and so should we.
Kicking Off The Connection
Beginning in June, Communal will start hosting weekly farmer’s markets and gatherings that showcase local farmers, ranchers, and service providers that exist in and around Canon City to enable the locals and visitors there to get everything possible, locally, before they have to search elsewhere or lean on the Amazons of the world to meet their needs. The goal is to start in rural but to build a system that can be applied to urban areas just the same through a system Bedolla is Communal is defining as a Locality Score™, a score that resembles the FICO model we all use for financial credibility. The idea is to give the community something to make informed decisions on what businesses they wish to engage and support in the spirit of local vitality.
In so doing, Communal hopes to empower each city or urban borough to be sustainable both economically and in terms of quality of life for everyone. Communal wants to turn connections into engagement. To bring a sense of belonging to everyone. If successful, Communal may very well validate the farm-to-table or farm-to-fork, local-first branding that taps into our emotional loyalty to the places we choose to live and call home.
In a world captivated by techno-solutionism and a relentless pursuit of post-human transcendence, small cities can serve as beacons of human connection, community resilience, and collective well-being. By embracing their unique identities and harnessing the power of technology in a human-centric way, these cities can create an atmosphere that captivates both residents and visitors alike. As we navigate the future, it is essential to remember that our shared humanity and the connections we forge are the true drivers of a fulfilling and sustainable society.
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