What does local really mean?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

One of the big things about social media is that it provides useful content at an ever more granular ‘local’ basis than would have been economically possible before. Through my friends bookmarks, social network platforms or question and answer services I can get recommendations on where to find lessons in a particular martial art, recommendations on a good neighbourhood restaurant or a good launderette in Brighton.

But what does local actually actually mean, and does local news and information have value to consumers? For me, my neighbourhood is central London, I work in Covent Garden and my friends live in west and south London so meeting in Soho or Southbank makes sense because the transport system makes it equally convenient for all of us. This means that I don’t really identify with the neighbourhood where my house is. This stateless identification of neighbourhood is further amplified by my online life where I engage through social media with a mix of friends from around the world via my blog, Twitter or my Facebook status bar.

I barely know anybody on my block, many of my neighbours are post-graduate students at Queen Mary College and I have very little local knowledge beyond The Morgan gastro-pub right around the corner from my house, the local sorting office for the Royal Mail, my local coffee shop and the Budgens supermarket next door to it; both of which are right by my closest tube station.

I couldn’t tell you who is a good GP to sign  up with, the name of a good quality local plumber or which school to try and send your kids to.  I don’t know my local councillor and couldn’t tell you the hot ticket issues affecting Tower Hamlets council. I probably know more about Wirral Borough Council and Galway County Council through family and lifelong friends. If we think about other communities such as the Poles or Chinese who invigorated the workforce, ethnic media rather than local media becomes important.

Local media is very different for every person and the only way to achieve relevance for each person is a huge degree of customisation: on location, on network, on ethnicity and a whole plethora of other factors that I haven’t even covered here.

This has implications in a couple of areas:

  • Efforts to foster a civic society will be hampered by a lack of engagement by a substantial minority in the neighbourhood. Otherwise ‘up and coming’ refers to bringing up the house prices and coming to force the local population out into the hinterland
  • Multi-culturalism is redefined as there is no longer a need for a consistent majority, no mass segment for local or national politics but a sliver of micro-interests instead making government policy much more difficult
  • The quality of information that social media sites will receive in up-and-coming areas like Mile End where I live isn’t going to get any better unless people like me start posting their local recommendations

I am not sure yet what the answer is likely to be, but I am going to make a start by trying to enjoy the neighbourhood where my house is more.