I opened up every page of internet community that I could remember joining in the last five years right up until August 15th. In chronological order they are: Xanga (x2). Livejournal, 43Things, Facebook. Youtube. Last.fm. Blogger. WordPress (x5). Twitter. LinkedIn. Meetup. Patch. Tumblr. Google+ Goodreads.
I mention “that I remember” because I know there are sites out there that I have blogged on and long forgotten, music sites that have collapsed, and sites where the sole purpose is to make lists. Based on the recent spate of blog posts about lists, well, it’s easy to imagine there are half a dozen such sites created and forgotten.
I did this exercise because I saw another site that piqued my interest, Pinterest. For a brief and sparkling moment, glitter and gleams in my eye I almost signed up. When I lived at Bow Street my bulletin boards sequestered beside my bedroom door served as reminders of places on the North Shore I wanted to visit, as well as nostalgic reminders of movies I had been to and skirts I wanted to buy. I loved tacking things there, tacky or spec-tack-ular. So I thought to myself, A virtual community to do it in, perfect!
Then a grey cloud crossed my eyes and rained on my exuberant parade, just like the weather on Monday, the day I signed up for GoodReads.
I join these things and they are self-titillating. They are a tribute to how cool am I. And how awesome am I. And look at me. Me. Me. Me. Should I repeat those pronouns anymore? Am I the only one who uses communities as a way of showing off how trendy I am?
Community. A buzzword that keeps on buzzing. From my time at Gordon College, to my conversation with a friend last week , to one of my current reading projects it continually pops up. This book, by philosopher/sociologist George H. Mead, called Mind Self and Society posits that the creation of the mind is only possible in a community. There is no way for intelligence and self to arise without the process of action and reaction from other people. Mead also says that the only way community exists is if people speak the same symbols. Without these, there is no communication, and no community.
But, how many “communities” can I join? If the community is online, the answer is, a lot. But in real life, the life that perhaps, matter’s more, the answer is, one. There is only one community really. Granted, it depends on how big it’s defined. But really my community is Beverly/Salem, or the North Shore. And despite what online communities would have you believe, you can’t sustain vast and yet close networks of friends.
I thought hard on all this because I finally found a ministry at my church to be part of. I am going to be ½ of the infant ministry coordination team. At church, it’s vital to play a role in the body of believers, through worship, prayer, and yes, volunteering. I hadn’t really found a way to do that though I had attended the church for 3 years. Now I have a place to be, and a teammate with which to do it.
Would I join every ministry opportunity at my church? No, of course not. There is no way that I could reasonably or faithfully contribute to them all. I’d get burned out. So why do I think I should be part of a dozen (or more) communities online? Why does anyone think that? Is it because updating your facebook feed takes thirty seconds and reading the news feed another fifteen minutes? Doesn’t seem like much time. The same with Goodreads, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Pardon me if I sound like a fuddy duddy though, but this commercial really resonates with me.
While I’m so busy trying to seem creative and hip and intertwined with culture (but not too much, in order to retain some cred) there are other people out there making art (or riding bikes). Real art, not just combining things on a board on line. Though I believe design has it’s place, and a good one, for creating cultural symbols, I’m not sure that everyone needs to take part in the process of design.
Moreover, there are people out there with real friends in their bricks and mortar community. These are people who are friends with their political representatives, local restaurant owners, and Parks and Recreation committee members. I’m not there yet, but one day, I’d like to be on a committee, or at least have the ear of a committee member attuned to my interests. (Bike Paths! Cough Cough).
Another point, which Alison Walker of GOOD magazine makes is that now when she’s finished a piece of writing, she “spend(s) an hour feeding it to social networks and aggregators when I should be writing the next piece.” Has this made her more popular and higher ranked? Of course it has! That gets results! No doubt because of her frenetic networking she is making a larger splash and changing the world faster. She’s keeping pace.
What happens when we stop keeping pace though? And why should we force everyone to move at a helter skelter pace by joining one more community and becoming yet more hyper-social? Here’s a blog post about that very thing… from TWO years ago, before I had joined 8 of my communities.
Is too much social networking possible? I bet there are sociologists studying this right now. I hope there are at least. In the meantime, I’m holding off from Pinterest, but I might be persuaded in the end. After all… Twitter got me, for one purpose or another.