One of my favorite classes during my undergraduate program at Baldwin-Wallace College was Political Theory taught by Mark Mattern. Why? Well, because I am an uber-nerd that is why. In all seriousness, we read some great books in that class. Not to mention that Mark was one of the better, more open-minded professors I’ve ever met.
My favorite book/discussion during that course centered around Daniel Kemmis’ Community and the Politics of Place. Kemmis spends most of the book outlining our civic and political involvement from the founders until present day (which was 1992 when he wrote it). One of the other things he discusses is that the polarization of America is due in large part to the destruction of community. That we are a mobile society, always on the go, and generally unwilling to better the community-at-large if it means taking time away from what WE want to do on our own. One of the examples he highlights is the modern home. Take a drive in your local neighborhood and look at the houses. What do many of them have in common? Many of them lead with the garage and not the front door. Kemmis’ premise (rhyming always makes you feel good) was that this signified the mobile/always-on-the-go American society…One that wasn’t interested in the community as a whole. There’s more to the theory than that, but I hope you get the idea…
So when I was cleaning out my bookshelf this weekend I unearthed the book and it made me think about how social media may help us restore that sense of community. Now, before you jump all over me and say I’m comparing apples to oranges hear me out. Sure, the communities Kemmis was referring to tended to be the people you interacted with on the street. The communities I’m referring to are much more geographically (and probably demographically) diverse. However, social networks like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube do unite us around a central idea(s) do they not? Whether they are friends in the case of Facebook, or colleagues/friends in the case of Twitter, or even similar interests in videos in the case of YouTube, we are coming together around a common cause. One of the things that Chris Brogan talks a lot about on his blog and on Twitter is helping other people. Many, many of the people I’ve encountered through social networks are interested in doing the exact same thing (yes, I know, there is a large spam element to these sites as well – just go with me).
It’s my opinion that if Kemmis were to update his book today that he might try and argue that social networks are indirectly working to re-establish community…albeit in a much different way than he envisioned it when he wrote the book 17 years ago.
What do you think? Is my analogy appropriate? Can social networks really re-establish a sense of community in this country? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.