Community in the Digital Age

On the day that I am writing this entry, it is the first Saturday of the month of December. I LOVE first Saturdays. I love them for a few reasons.

1) It’s Saturday
2) It’s flipping SATURDAY!
3) On the evenings of First Saturdays, the Americano Social Club gathers on San Francisco’s Haight Street to entertain the locals and anyone who decides to duck into Club Deluxe after a day on the town.

The Americano Social Club is a few things:
1) It is a band of revelers, merry makers, musicians, dancers, local drunks, pot-smokers, ruffians, hooligans and activists.

2) It is a Social Club.
Something like this one that you might already know Buena Vista Social Club

3) It is community.
I am indigenous to the Bay Area. I grew up in Hercules, just north of Richmond California. I attended the local schools, I ran around with the neighborhood kids and their families with whom we were close. We house sat for each other, we shared Thanksgiving meals, and we invited our most beloved goyim over to our house to share a Passover Seder. These people we lived beside came from all walks of life. They were from the Philippines, Columbia, Eastern Europe, Anaheim.

We grew up together, went on field trips, had tremendous falling outs and reconciliations and we still gather on occasion to eat food, celebrate milestones and meet the newest additions to the families. These people were (and still are) our community.

Merriam-Webster defines “community” surprisingly broadly, but my personal definition is fairly simple: “A group of individuals who choose to show up, hang out, and make the most of their time together.”

The key word is “choose.”

The people in our little corner of Hercules didn’t have to hang out due to mere proximity. We could have chosen to stay inside, never say “hello” to our fellow block-dwellers, never open our homes during the colder months and share home-cooked meals or house-sit for each other. To be perfectly honest, it might have simplified things exponentially. Significantly smaller meals to prepare, no complicated home-alarm systems to decode, no messy-falling outs over missing house pets (all of whom were returned safely back home thank you very much).

But it was unavoidable. There seemed to be a visceral and mutual need for what we had built. We felt closer, safer, and that we weren’t a collection of individuals living in solitude together.

As I grew older I experience other types of communities and after a 5-year educational tour in New York City, I moved back and started dating in the Bay Area. This very simple and completely natural social activity unleashed a level of cognitive dissonance for me that invariably shook the foundations of my understanding of human interaction. It forced me to re-examine my previously developed understanding of what “community” has been to me, what it means now and where the concept is potentially headed.

Given that I have a penchant for dating brilliant yet incredibly emotionally unavailable men, I quite frequently found myself dipping into the tech, engineer, programmer, gamer pool. Not that men from other professional fields aren’t equally as brilliant or unavailable, it just seems that men from the former professional fields were more…. abundant. After spending 6-8 months meeting these gentlemen online and at parties, what I found was nothing short of an existential crisis.

I began to take note that most of these individuals are transplants from outside of the Bay Area. These people are building their community from scratch, relying on co-workers to fulfill that niche or virtually nurturing relationships from outside of the state as an extension of a greater (global) community at large.

This is amazing in a way as it appears to be bringing this world in closer and the idea of a global community where people share ideas and catalyze change for larger issues on a grand scale becomes more of a foreseeable reality. Progress!

HOWEVER: This requires an individual to spend more time in virtual space and less time in the physical world around other humans. Humans who express moods with the tracking of their eyes and a subtle weight shift. Humans who smell like musk and lemon oil. Humans that touch and laugh and dance and make sounds. Humans who have intuition. Humans who get emotional and say things they regret the next morning. Humans who vibrate and hum. With life.

It also seemed to me that most of the people I encountered were suffering from a severe and virulent strain of FOMO (for those of us who have yet to meet this lovely anagram: Fear Of Missing Out). I mean, there have been evenings where I’ve had to choose one activity over another, but this was on a scale that I had never previously experienced. Subsequently, the choice to “show up” on the part of any particular romantic prospect was very rarely ever made (until the last moment). And by “showing up” I mean “choosing to hang out, and make the most of our time together.” The majority of the interactions I had took place from behind the scrim of backlit glass screens of smartphones or computer monitors. Even these interactions would take days to complete as a text might not be returned until a day or three later. Conversations about the weather could span an entire week. To me, this is when the term “Real Time” started to become a “thing.” In fact, a whole new language seemed to be unfolding in front of me in the context of this new virtual, interactive world. LMAO, LOL, PWNd, STFU.

Thich Nhat  Hanh, author of The Art of Communicating, opens the second chapter with “Loneliness is the suffering of our time.  Even if we’re surrounded by others we can feel very alone. We are lonely together…..Technology supplies us with many devices to help us stay connected.  But even when we’re connected, we continue to feel lonely.

The pace at which this virtual universe is altering the way we humans interact, do business, realize our dreams, fall in love and save the world is staggering. And it’s only gaining speed. I myself have found my day-to-day interactions with people taking place more often through my iPhone touchpad than with my body and vocal chords. While it is efficient and instantaneous, it is also why I find First Saturdays with the Americano Social Club to be so rewarding and energizing. It is a place where people choose to show up regularly, to interact, to laugh, dance, drink, eat, sing, hug, smile and listen to one another. In “real time.” The same bodies choose to appear, their stories unfold and we become accountable for each other, in much the same way that my Herculean community did.

Herein lies the risk, I suppose: becoming accountable for each other.  Whether we like it or not, we start to care about one another. It’s a pretty big responsibility and can be fairly intimidating.

I believe (and have an earnest hope) that this type of emotional accountability, this sense of community can be transposed into the virtual world. But it’s going to take a bunch of people choosing to show up and make the most of the time they have together, even if it isn’t comfortable. Even if the objective isn’t notoriety, prestige or networking but the mere feeling that we aren’t collection of individuals living in solitude together.

 

One thought on “Community in the Digital Age

  1. Pingback: Just Breathe, It’s only the Holidays | SiliconValleyTales.com

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