From global village to global theater. From smart city to smarter city

May 17, 2013

As Marshall McLuhan popularized in his writings from the 1960’s, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964), the world has been transformed by ICT – with instantaneous, ubiquitous access to information. Change also spilled into social spheres as humans who moved from individualists to a collective identity, formed a new social organization which was called the Global Village.

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Yet, what I find most interesting as I reflect on this notion and completion of my study of smart cities and the citizens who live there is the term McLuhan started to use later — the term Global Theater. What’s the difference between people who are part of Global Village vs. a Global Theater? It’s simple. They change from consumer to producer, from acquisition to involvement.

This is the key I’ve highlighted in my global study of 4 smart cities: Chattanooga TN in the USA, Zurich, Switzerland, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia, and Wuxi, China. Cities around the globe are grappling with social, economic, and environmental challenges. Also, city leaders, large and small enterprises, and private public partnerships are beginning to address these challenges in a way that respects local cultures and traditions. But what we heard was that one voice was typically missing: the voice of the citizen.

And citizens were supportive of joining the Global Theater. The majority of citizens we interviewed, who numbered more than 100, expressed a strong interest in taking an active role in defining how to make their cities smarter. Formal focus groups, informal neighborhood meetings, regional planning teams, and even contests where citizens can launch new business ideas or applications leveraging new ICT capabilities are just a few of “theatrics” we uncovered.

Successful providers have already found rewards by taking a more active role in involving citizens in smart city development. Increased customer satisfaction and retention as well as winning new customers away from longstanding competitors are just two benefits which are affecting the bottom line. Research found that these benefits can be applied globally. Citizens shared common views on new services that would make their daily lives better – shorter queues, remote healthcare and education, virtual entertainment, and lower energy costs are just a few of the services highlighted in our ebook.

So take a few minutes to see what role you can play in the Global Theater. You’re sure to find a part that’s right for you.

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