Creating a sense of community in a divided world

2 Nov 2020

Image: © Thomas/

Staying connected has been a challenge in 2020 as we’ve all come to realise the value of physical togetherness. But somehow Future Human managed to replicate that magic, writes Elaine Burke.

Last week, Silicon Republic hosted its first ever virtual conference. It wasn’t what we planned for our inaugural Future Human event. Originally set to be a live event in May 2020, then October, then a hybrid event, we kept pivoting in response to Covid-19’s persistent presence in our world. Eventually, it went fully remote with just our host, Future Human founder Ann O’Dea, broadcasting live from a stage in Dublin.

It was a challenging step into unknown territory with a brand new event, and I can’t say it was without trepidation that I opened up the Hopin platform last Thursday, 29 October. But the friendly greetings came quickly, quelling all fears.

Hello from Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford, Wexford, Donegal. London, New York, Hong Kong and the San Francisco Bay Area tuned in. Hi from Chennai, India. Hi from Ljubljana, Slovenia. We built it, and they came.

‘There’s simply no denying that 2020 has been a year of crisis as well as opportunity’

One of the most unique and wonderful things about Inspirefest, the science and technology conference we ran for five years, was the community that built up around it. We wanted to bring them along with us to Future Human, the next iteration, but we had no idea how that would look in a pandemic-ridden world.

We have spent so long now working and living at a distance, and while the benefits of flexible and remote work are many, there’s simply no denying that 2020 has been a year of crisis as well as opportunity.

We have missed engaging with our community, and seeing them turn up and make themselves known in such great waves last week was almost overwhelming. We hope of course that all our Future Human attendees got value from the event, but I can say with certainty that all at Silicon Republic have felt the benefit of knowing that you’re still here with us. And if it wasn’t for you all, it wouldn’t have been the event it was in the end.

‘This is online culture as it has never been before’

I’ve personally been on a journey of discovering the many ways in which I can truly connect with friends and family online this year. It’s not as simple as social media platform taglines would make it seem. It takes effort and careful cultivation of digital environments and unspoken rules of communication. This is online culture as it has never been before.

Some of the online parties I’ve hosted this year have been as fun as any IRL, and I don’t think that’s just because we’re a bit starved of social interaction these days. I’ve been able to spend some valuable time with friends near and far, unfettered by distance and the social anxieties that sometimes keep us apart. These are the things I will take with me into the post-Covid world, whenever that might emerge, and I’ll feel better for it. (And if you want any tips on hosting online quizzes, bingo nights, family parties or murder mystery evenings, hit me up.)

“Is it time for a big reset?” asked O’Dea in her opening remarks as Future Human 2020 went live to the world. She spoke then and in a piece for Silicon Republic about selectively forgetting the past but remembering to take the best along with you. This is all we can aim for as we continue to weather this storm. We will eventually reach that end point where the struggles of this year are a distant memory, but the lessons we learned and the value we took from it all will have helped us become more human in an increasingly digitised world.

As the Future Human chat buzzed with the activity of old friends reconnecting after a difficult year apart, O’Dea introduced a musical performance by sean-nós-singing siblings Séamus and Caoimhe Uí Fhlatharta and something magical happened. Just as a hush would fall in an auditorium filled with people, the chatroom fell momentarily silent. In that moment, there’s no doubt that we were all together.

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic