by Sayraphim on January 19, 2009

So I’ve been thinking about community for a while now. I’m sort of reading a book called Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert D. Putnam, which talks about the decline of the American community over the past 100 years. How people used to belong to bowling clubs, church groups, fraternal organisations, even libraries, but membership is declining for all these organisations. People don’t go out to dinner parties as much anymore, they don’t volunteer their time for charities and through this book it seems that the community as a whole are turning inward and becoming less social.

This book was written jsut as the internet was beginning to become common, but it doesn’t really focus on it, since it wasn’t such a part of life as it is now. I don’t quite remember, but I think the author’s view of the internet would be that it just increase the pattern of social isolation. I think that was true at the start, that millions of people stayed home and played games rather than went outside in the fresh air and from an outsiders perspective (I wasn’t into networking games like so many people I knew) it did appear that it truncated or circumnavigated actual social interaction. Friends I had wouldn’t interact much in the real world but would spend all their free time (and take time off work) to raid villages and kill monsters. They’d sort of vaguely talk to the people they were playing with, but I never felt it was the same kind of deeply personal interaction you’d get from grabbing a coffee with a friend. Back then it wasn’t treated as much as the communication tool it is now.

But times change, and ten years on I think the internet offers a unique opportunity for community. I’ve only got one friend who knits, and trying to tell someone who doesn’t knit the joy you take in figuring out how to knit boobs is often not as satisfing as telling someone who understands the ins and outs of your hobby and thus understands just how clever you must be feeling right at this moment to have worked it out.

The internet is awesome for this, for finding like minded people in your local area, in your country and right around the world. It’s a valuable tool for not only being able to find these people and communicate with them, but you can supplement that contact with meeting in the real world. For instance – I’ve never been to a Stitch and Bitch, but I think the idea is awesome. Sitting in a room full of people who understand about knitted boobs, chatting, cake, coffee and craft! I’m bowled over by the idea. And with the net I can find them. One around my area is Brown Owls, run by the lovely people at Meet Me At Mikes, which is a study in Community and the Internet in itself.

I’ve been to craft markets, met crafty people both in person and by email and organised exhibitions with artists from around Australia and the world because of the net.

Back to Bowling Alone. I’ve been reading the book and I think it has a lot of valid points, but I do think that the community mindset is coming back. I was reading a blog the other day (I have to admit I’ve forgotten which one) but she was saying that since she discovered etsy she wouldn’t buy mass produced items from stores anymore. And we are rediscovering that old fashioned mindset, where you prefer buying from someone you know rather than huge faceless stores where the person behind the counter doesn’t know where the stuff comes from and more importantly, doesn’t care.

Through etsy, through redbubble, through these online communities, you are once again presented with the ability to talk directly to those making the products. And there’s something wonderful about that. I wanted a specific type and colour of hand dyed yarn a while ago, I tried finding someone local but couldn’t, so instead I found Yarn or a Tale, we had quite a conversation as I explained to her exactly what I wanted, and it was so beautiful to open up the package when it arrived.

And this is where this whole post is heading… I sold a top hat I’d made years ago the other day to etsy user Nethersphere, and I recieved this convo after the parcel arrived:
OMG OMG OMG it’s here! I haven’t taken it off all day. It’s fantastic and I think it’s going to be my new “thing.” When people see me, I’ll probably be wearing this hat. I’ll probably wear it to clubs and wear it while walking in the woods. I’ll probably wear it while drawing. Yes, you’ve made my day/year/life. Thank you!!

How heartwarming is that? And without this slowly growing community something like that, where the person who bought an item can talk to the person who made it was jsut not possible.

I’ll leave you with this, which is a photo of the baby yeti in it’s new home sent to me by the lovely Shelly, who bought it (Image credit: Photo by Shelly). I love the photo, it’s so cute! It’s titled “Harry Studying”. I think it’s great that the baby yeti is bettering itself! I’m not sure what is being studied**, but it’s another heartwarming connection from someone halfway around the world who bought something of mine.

The term “Global Village” has been bandied around for years, but we’re slowly evolving the Global Village Market, and I think that’s wonderful.

I’m all in favour of a return to the community mindset, and I’m doing what I can to further the love.

**Update: Shelly got in touch with me and told me “By the way he’s studying a calculus-based physics class called “electricity and light”. I think he’s working on a Gauss’s Law problem in that picture.” Thanks Shelly! Wish him luck!

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