Breakthroughs in the way we communicate with each other and the impact devices have on the younger generations’ definition of ‘community’ may be a benefit to rural America.

Smartphones, tablets and a growing catalog of apps connect friends and family separated by a few blocks or thousands of miles. Speakers at the University of Nebraska’s second annual Rural Futures Conference discussed how advancements in technology can grow rural populations.

Tom Koulopoulos, founder of the Delphi Group, said new norms in communication redefine community and could lead to a “mass exodus” of future generations away from cities.

“Community is what we seek and embrace,” he said. “Urbanization occurred because people found it necessary to gather in large numbers to conduct commerce and communicate. That’s not true anymore.”