Monday, December 1, 2014


During a discussion with my wife, the other day, I realized that I have been sort of misrepresenting my opinion on a very prominent issue -- prominent, at least, on this blog. What I mean is: the issue of "community." I tend to be harsh toward the idea, which is, to the general populace, not unlike being harsh toward puppies.

I am sure that most readers have been "getting" what I have been trying to say, but, it occurred to me, during that aforementioned conversation, that what I should be railing against is "hyper-community."

My problem is easy to explain: the individual has been swallowed up by a world that over-emphasizes "community" and that is obsessed with the idea of being "connected." But this is not "community;" it is "hyper-community." From now on, I will call it that.

Community is, at least for me, when there is a big storm and one's neighbors come over (as mine once did) to help one clear a huge fallen tree. Community is barn-raisings and sing-alongs. Community is bringing in your neighbor's mail when he is on vacation. Community is returning a lost dog to the address his collar. Community is long summer talks over fences. Community is watching our for your neighbors and working together with them when circumstances call.

What it is should not be is the abandonment of family and the dismissal of private life. It seems, however, that this is what it has become, with the ripples moving outward...

Real community.
Hypercommunity puts activities before all other elements of life. Hypercommunity sacrifices family dinner or weekend worship for travel teams. Hypercommunity teaches kids that it is not okay to spend time at home -- that we are indebted to our "community" to join things; to coach, even if we don't want to; to participate in fundraisers that eat up our time when we could do just as much good by quietly donating from our own couches. Hypercommunity pressures us in to "signing our kids up" for things they don't want to do because...that's just what you do when they reach at a certain age.

This is not the same as being anti-social or uncaring or totally non-participant. For many years (until someone on our block got a snow-blower -- huzzah!) I shoveled the walk of at least four properties every time it snowed because my elderly neighbors -- who never asked for it -- needed my help. Each year, we attend the town's "Fall Festival." When my boys played baseball, I didn't coach (I figured they had enough of me telling them what to do and we had some good coaches) I would never sign up for the $75 deposit refund activities, but I would be out on the field before every game, raking the dirt and putting out bases. I was there at practice to help the kids warm up or to take throws from the kids during infield practice. I even "umped" a few times in emergencies. I value all of these things -- just not at the expense of my home or private life.

As the ripples go outward, community becomes not unlike a Borgesque "hive mentality." Social media and the 24-hour news cycle has made us a global hypercommunity. We are driven to participate in every discussion around the globe, whether we are prepared to or not. We are pressured into things like "ice bucket challenges" even if we have no idea what we are supporting. We are heaped with worries about things we can not affect but that we feel compelled to "follow." And, maybe worst of all, we are (if we are not careful) swept up into the riptides of popular thought; we become less thinkers and more parrots every day and then we adopt these popular thoughts as our own. We volunteer for thought-control. We sign up for it, because, after all, we must be a part of the community...

Community is a handshake, palm against palm. Hypercommunity is a Pinterest post. Community is grabbing the other end of a heavy log. Hypercommunity is sharing a status. Community is a Christmas party with friends. Hypercommunity posting a meme about how it is horrible that people don't say "Merry Christmas" anymore.

Some people are proponents of small businesses. I am a proponent of "small community." Keep thinking globally, if you think you must, but don't forget to clean your toilet.


  1. I agree. It's so much easier to be part of a virtual community of seemingly like-minded people, without having to go through the messy business of actually meeting them. But real communities are about being forced to find common cause with people who are superficially different, but actually share the same hopes and fears (I've cheated, by moving to a neighbourhood where nearly everyone seems to have the same level of education and shares a similar outlook).

    That said, there is a vast difference between the meaningful exchanges between bloggers and the pithy soundbites of Twitter.

    Apparently, recent research has claimed that many people are actually feeling more connected with their local area, as well as increasingly being part of global online communities, but they identify less with their respective nation states.

    1. That might be a good sign... Maybe everyone else is starting, either consciously or subconsciously, to get tired fo feeling like (as a famous hobbit once put it) "butter scraped over too much bread."