R.I.P. Individualism. Community is Back!

Students singingMisha awoke the researcher within me with her article, “What Ties do Bind?“. In addition to that, I’ve been on a rampage at work trying to get my hands on the community development aspect of our site. (By the way, if you have any suggestions on how to garner more community interaction, I’m all ears.)

What others have said

Mother Jones magazine has quite a few poets, authors, and journalists view on what community is.

Jake McKee has a few thoughts on the subject.

Lee LeFever and Jennifer Rice add their thoughts to the conversation.

Even Wikipedia has a great spot on what “sense of community” really means, distilled into a formula.

What I say

My favorite quote from Lee LeFever is in relation to the communities businesses try to create. But, just to clarify, that is not the only type of community I’m trying to build. I have other alterior motives. Regardless …

I think “community” is a worthy goal, but most businesses will be better served to focus on how appropriate social tools (message boards, blogs, wikis, etc.) can be used to serve customer needs without worrying about “community” per se.

My least favorite quote is from Jennifer Rice. She says ….

I’m not sure if I agree with the qualification that it’s about relationships developed over time. For example, I write a blog post that generates discussion: readers make comments on both my post and on other readers’ comments. I’ve formed a community, but it will only last a day… 2 days if we’re lucky.

I disagree wholeheartedly. Community is not just shouting out an opinion willy nilly. That’s like going to an AA meeting one time, sharing, clapping, and then leaving, never to come back. That’s not community. Community takes time. It takes sacrifice.

I believe true community has to do with the mishmash of relationships that surround an objective, shared by all. That objective, or focus, could be geographic, spiritual, or a myriad of other things. But, for a true community to exist, it takes involvement and commitment of some sort. Blog comments are non-commital. They are singular and do not contribute to a group goal.

At least not in my blog, which doesn’t really have an objective.

I would have to agree with Jake on this one:

We can even think about this as a spectrum. On the left end of the spectrum, we have lightweight, short-term, or loose connections. On right end of the spectrum you have deep, long-term, relationships.

When I defined “community”, I was really defining the right end of the spectrum. When others have asked how various things have fit into my definition, they were really asking where they fit into this Social Connection spectrum.

Bye Bye Individualism

We can thank the baby boom generation for the individualism we enjoy today (sarcasm implied). Without the sarcasm, we can actually thank them for the positive side effects of that individualism; a huge economy, leaders in almost every industry, new industries being spawned, mass customization, etc.

But, watch out. I think individualism is starting to get scared and I can hear it wimpering a little.

My evidence? myspace, facebook, upcoming.org, eventful, meetup, every other .com that is called a “social network”, church small groups and post-modernism, “community development specialist” as a job title, digg.com, the slashdot effect, renewed thoughts on the intelligence (or lack there of) of groups, second life, gamers forums, linkedin.com, friendster.com, and so many more offline and online groups.

Of course we still want to be an individual. That’s why mohawks are back in style. But, we also consider our friends as important (sometimes more important) as our family. Many times they are a part of our families.

Now, it’s time to ask the same question that Misha asked. It’s probably the last artery to clot for individualism, and unless it gets a bypass, community will be, like, the new individual.

I’ve been thinking alot about community again recently. What defines it and what doesn’t. What creates it and what breaks it. I think it’s something we all crave – we build our homes in them, we vote for representatives to protect them, we move for them – but the enigma I keep noticing is that we tend to not want to be in actual need of them.

In a relational sense, I mean.
My point is that even the most community minded of us can be weird about needing community ourselves.
Why do we love community, but feel embarrassed when we need it?

[tags]community, social connection, social media, social networks, myspace, facebook, society[/tags]

Nate Ritter lives in the Pacific Northwest (U.S.), popularized the #hashtag and creates web applications for a living. He also does miles and point hacking to enable cheap travel for his family. More here →

2 Comments on "R.I.P. Individualism. Community is Back!"

  1. misha says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with the individualism concept (may it still RIP) because I wonder if individualism is really only fear. If it’s born out of fear of being hurt, controlled etc. which comes back to our commitment or experience that started in community – b/c we all for good or evil start with community.

    So if we are more individualistic the question, I wonder, if it isn’t that it should die, but why it’s there in the first place. Or else the community we chose to gravitate back towards will die if that’s not dealt with.

    I don’t ever think there hasn’t been community – just a variety of expressions, commitment levels and consistancies of it.

    The question – maybe? – is how do we create ones that last. And what – in the inevitable new shapes and forms of it will create intimacy that changes us and supports us. And why can we, or can we not, accept our need for (and thereby commitment to) it.

    This – I’m afraid – is written without self-editting. So send me a copy of my comment and I’ll see if I agree with myself. :)

  2. nate says:

    Hah! Thanks for the comment misha. I write with anti-self-editing too.

    In fact, I think I probably do agree with your insight as to the source of individualism (at least as a possible source). But, since I didn’t attempt to say what the sources of individualism are, I don’t think you can disagree with me (even though I know you like to).

    And, actually, I think you do really agree with the comment…

    We can even think about this as a spectrum. On the left end of the spectrum, we have lightweight, short-term, or loose connections. On right end of the spectrum you have deep, long-term, relationships.

    which is what you were saying… “just a variety of expressions, commitment levels and consistancies of it.”

    I fully agree with you.

    However, the point of your comment… the questions… How do we create ones that last, that support us, and why can(‘t) we accept our need for community? Those are the great questions.

    Want to posit some answers? ;)

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