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 play a crucial role in the future of rural AmericaSmartphones, 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.”

The USDA Economic Research Service shows the population of nonmetropolitan counties has been lower than those in metro areas since the mid-1990s, and the U.S. experienced nonmetro population loss from 2010 to 2012.

In his keynote speech, Koulopoulos said kids searching for a better quality of life will realize they can find it outside of America’s major cities.

Extension educators in Nebraska and North and South Dakota are learning to market themselves through efforts specifically tailored to each community. University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken says rural communities can focus on their resources to attract younger generations.

"We have not realized the full potential of what could be achieved by leveraging our resources, our intellectual capacity and our energy" in rural America, Milliken said.