People (i.e., my non-geeky friends) often ask me why I am so fascinated by social media. I almost always answer “it’s the sense community that it offers”. I know… I know – that’s a lame answer but it’s what everyone says, right?
I needed to come up with a better and more meaningful version of that answer.
Let’s talk about offline communities:
I came across an article on Re-Nest (originally from an article in the New York Times) about a growing new trend – commune living.
Because of tighter economic times, many young urban people have decided to pool their resources and live as a collective which also includes an intention to live sustainably.
Apparently, communes and collectives have been noticeably on the rise in recent years as there’s been an increase on cleaner, lighter and more sustainable living, which includes the desire to find or build a community of people who share your values. Laird Schaub, executive secretary of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, points to “an ever-increasing level of dissatisfaction with traditional lifestyle choices, because there’s too much alienation and lack of connectedness. Humans are inherently social animals, yet we don’t particularly know how to get along with one another.”
A lot has changed since the late 1960’s when communes became a popular way of life, especially within the disillusioned counter-culture movement (i.e., hippies). It was a way for like-minded people to meet up and develop a community built on trust and respect. When the world and the governments could not to be trusted, people instinctively found each other. They nurtured and freely communicated their ideas and their beliefs and everyone within the community benefited as a result. Perfect or not, it was humans doing what we do best – be human.
Fast-forward to today
Trust in governments and world leaders are at an-all-time low. Working for one company for 35 years and retiring with a pension fund has been erased from the modern definition of a career. People are starving in front of a plate full of food. We were all going through life and feeling empty because real human connections were all but lost in the prosperity (and greed) of ’80s and ’90s.
I always wondered why people were so interested in reality TV and for so long. I now think it’s a symptom of a larger issue – we just want to connect – or rather re-connect. However clumsy or in bad taste it takes the form of – people are interested in people again. Why do you think American Idol and Do You Think You Can Dance or even America’s Got Talent are so popular. Don’t they remind you of the variety shows from the ’50s? They do for me! Families actually watch these shows together because they (like the show in the ’50s) entertain people with people.
Now: bring this back to online communities.
It’s so obvious to me that the relationship between the offline world of communal living and the rise in social media users in the online world are basically the same. Whether we use Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook, Youtube or even Twestival to connect with each other – we all basically need to share ideas, values and beliefs and of course, the community benefits as a result. The technology is different but the human need to belong is stronger than ever.
I’m not sure how to end this post because this revelation is quite moving to me. It shows me that people (and I’m gonna quote her here) simply need people – and we always will – and that’s beautiful.