Being Shoved into Community

The Synthesis is Coming – I Can Feel It

No backstory, folks, very little explanation. I hope I don’t lose you, but if I do, ask for clarification in the comments.

Hegelian theory has the thesis, antithesis, and the eventual synthesis. It seems – at least from the representations of Hegelian thought I’ve seen – that this is generally considered to take place in a generation or two. This may not be the case. Maybe we’re at the end of a two-hundred year synthesis between modernism and postmodernism. (This is relevant to you, stick with me…)

Maura talks rather exquisitely about the deterioration of community, with a very Durkheimian sensibility (I’m surprised she doesn’t actually say “anomie”). This basic concept of community and society is indicative of the modern era. Yet there’s a degree of relativism in her writing as well, a postmodern sensibility that there is worth in other ways (though not the silly extremes of total relativism, because, you know, she’s *smart*). This synthesis of the modern and postmodern is indicative of a new way.

New way? What’s this about a new way?

Both modernism (that is, the classical idea of modernism) and postmodernism have largely failed. But a relatively new sensibility has grown – become a synthesis – between these two large modes of thinking. It takes the best of both, in experimental mashups of thought, theory, and experiment.

This could be seen as a threat – both in popular culture and in academia. Existing power structures are enraged at “thier” ideas, concepts, and art being remixed into something new and different. The existing powers-that-be claim it subverts and undermines the “real message” or “intended meaning” of the original thinker/artist/whatever.

The Internet Doesn’t Kill Community, People Kill Community

Our ideas of social relationships have suddenly become horribly textual in nature. Even as they have done so, rebellion has already come to pass. Whether it be the chunky way that articles are written on the ‘net, or the near-l33tness of txting, we’ve instinctually recognized the structures and strictures of text and worked to move past it.

But even as we forge communities textually, as niche individuals are finally able to find others like themselves, we lose geographic community.

In my (geographical) community, I would daresay a large part of that is due to “squelchers” – already enpowered individuals who crush that which upsets thet status quo. But the original era of meeting only in cyberspace is nearly over. Meetups – once a stable of BBS scenes (yeah, I’m that old peeps, cope) are spontaneously happening once again. Tweetups, for example.

Geographical Internet Communities are also originating in other, organic ways. Geotagging, Waymarking, Tweets within X miles of a zip code, geographic aggregators and (geographical) community blogs are all parts of this synthesis bringing the digital layer back into meatspace.

And We Better Get Used To It

Transportation costs are already having more of an effect on trade than *any* tariff. This has huge implications for bedroom communities, WalMart (and Oriental Trading Company, and numerous others). It also has implications for places like Dayton.

David Esrati proposed a tax incentive for businesses that encouraged local employees to walk to work. This is a GREAT idea. There are some logistical bugs (how do you prove it, how do you claim it, and is the tax burden such an elastic demand that tax incentives will have an effect?) but it serves a key and core purpose: Providing an incentive to restructure our lives before we are *forced* to.

Even better, such incentives (including community public transportation) will help aid cross-cutting speech among real people. Again, as Maura pointed out, people have a tendency to self-select segregation. This doesn’t make it “natural” or “right” – and we must NEVER presume those two words are synonymous – but it does make it predictable. Work and school are the few times we find ourselves voluntarily rubbing up against other people unlike ourselves.

Making a Local Change: Investing In People

And this is a great opportunity for education. As old styles of production change, there will be a lot of structural unemployment. However, older students (and older graduates and older workers) are rarely likely to relocate. This provides a wonderful opportunity for universities to court older citizens in their communities as new students – and these alumi will be more likely to stay in the area they came from.

This kind of regionalism – combined with information dispersal of the Internet – is capable of literally transforming the ways we do business in a the space of a few short years. Or, if we fail to grasp those opportunities, we may find ourselves in economic backwaters, swirling slowly in the eddies of those who have passed us by.

This is an age of transition, where huge obstacles and huge opportunity await us. Any movement – ANY – that puts our communities in a proactive instead of reactive position will help reduce the negatives and accentuate the positives.

It is time for a new way, a mash-up way. A way that is creative, that uses the tools we have, and recognizes obstacles as roadsigns towards unexpected opportunity.

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One Comment

  1. June 24, 2008

    It’s pretty easy to prove where you live and use a basic GIS program to map employees to employers. It may not be perfect, but, it makes more sense than offering incentives and adding infrastructure to “create jobs” in what were cornfields (new Honda plant in Indiana).
    Thanks for helping spread the word.

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