When Mark Zuckerberg recently described his aspirations for Facebook, he went big, with a 6,000-word manifesto covering the company’s future role in everything from natural disasters to voter participation rates.
When Bill Gates tackled a similar question, he painted a much simpler picture. Gates was asked during a Reddit AMA to name the most pressing issue that feasibly could be solved within the next 10 years. Though the foundation that Gates runs with his wife, Melinda, addresses ambitious, complicated issues—including education, poverty, and health—his answer was that he hoped technology would just help people connect to one another:
A lot of people feel a sense of isolation. I still wonder if digital tools can help people find opportunities to get together with others – not Tinder but more like adults who want to mentor kids or hang out with each other. It is great that kids go off and pursue opportunities but when you get communities where the economy is weak and a lot of young people have left then something should be done to help.
Arguably, these tools already exist. Tinder in fact has attempted to create a Tinder for people who want to, as Gates put it, “hang out with each other.” Called Tinder Social, the feature allows groups to match with other groups for outings. There are also sites like Meetup.com for gatherings around virtually every theme, and more niche offerings like Bumble’s BFF, for women looking for female friends; Meet My Dog, for dog-owner meet-ups; and Peanut, for mom friends.
Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has argued that Facebook can help counteract declining participation in community groups in the physical world. “Online communities are a bright spot, and we can strengthen existing physical communities by helping people come together online as well as offline,” he wrote in his manifesto.
Community connection has been credited with improving health, creating better schools, and less crime. “This is not just a matter of warm, cuddly feelings,” Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone, a book about declining civic engagement, told the Massachusetts magazine CommonWealth back in 2000. “There are measurable ways in which our community’s health and our own health actually is directly affected by our social connections.”
For the tech industry, solving the problem of isolation, though less flashy than colonizing Mars and more feasible than building a global society, would not be a trivial accomplishment.