The evolution of community, and the occasional need to go back to the old days, has been on my mind lately. To help my thoughts percolate, I began by taking a look at the definition of Community, courtesy of the American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition (courtesy of the iPhone application iTunes link):
1a.A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government
1b. The district or locality in which such a group lives
2a. A group of people having common interests
2b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society
3a. Similarity or identity
3b. Sharing, participation and fellowship
4. Society as a whole; the public
5a. a groups of plants and animals living and interacting with one another in a specific region under relatively similar environmental conditions
5b. The region occupied by a group of interacting organisms.
communitas, fellowship, from
Community is basically a gathering of beings, be they human or beast. With the scaffolding built by that definition of community, I now wonder how many people must be together to comprise a community? Can a couple be a community? Does it take three or more people? Ten or more?
By definition, most people encounter dozens of communities every day whether it is at a family picnic or with parents and children at the baseball field on a cloudy Saturday morning or at Sunday School on a sunny Sunday morning, but do we appreciate or take advantage of these communities?
I have a tendency to avoid community. I like to hole up in my compound and stay there because I don’t much care for people. I choose where to shop based on the store that draws the fewest people through it’s doors (i.e. going to a small grocery store for a few things rather than fighting the crowds at Wal-Mart). When I end up with good friends though, I enjoy a good conversation.
Before the Internet, friends used to meet for dinner and maybe play cards or just to hang out and talk and share ideas. The history of the salon goes back for centuries. This, from Wikipedia:
A salon is a gathering of stimulating people of quality under the roof of an inspiring hostess or host, partly to amuse one another and partly to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation and readings, often consciously following Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate” (“aut delectare aut prodesse est”). The salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical salons of the 17th century and 18th century, were carried on until quite recently in urban settings among like-minded people of a ‘set’: many 20th-century salons could be instanced.
For many years, and many years ago, I was an active part of the Internet community. I spend a lot of time on the Net now, but I use it to read and learn more than to interact with others. I spent a lot of time in newsgroups and IRC, but have drifted away from those forums. Sites like Facebook represent the Internet community now and I’m beginning to seek out some connections there now. It’s not the same as chatting with friends all over the U.S. as a group on IRC, but it’s definitely more convenient.
But the Internet has broken down community in many senses. If someone pulled the plug, would you be able to reach many of the people you are familiar with? The people you follow on Twitter. The people you friend on Facebook. Would your contact with them be completely cut off? Do you have their phone numbers? Do you even have their e-mail addresses? Do you know how to find them, shake their hand, and say “Hello?”
Tangent: Think about when the word “friend” became a verb.
I would like to reinstate the salon, to have friends over to the house for coffee or a couple of drinks and just be together. Maybe we could discuss the books we’ve read or share items we’ve written.
As much general dislike I have for people—I cannot abide stupidity, and there is a lot of it in the world—I love my friends and would like to see a handful of them more often. It may be time to send out some invitations and entertain a bit this summer. It may be time to fire up the grill, cook some meat and vegetables, and just be together with others.
This blog gets a few thoughts out of my head, but there is still a lot banging around up there in my brain. There may be more on the modern sense of community coming from me.