We currently live in an era where disconnection and outrage makes us feel isolated. In spite of our newfound ability to be in contact with friends and family at practically any hour of the day. Why? Because all of the noise that is to be found through that same vehicle, whether through Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or the news, has led to a deep fear that there is a "they" out there, who are not us, and who are beyond the reach of reason. Whichever side of the divide you're on, the same fundamental anxiety exists.
There's another reason why being more "connected" has led to less connection, and that's so simple that it shouldn't have to be explained; human beings need to see each other face to face. No matter the volume of texts that you might exchange with a friend or loved one, it's all robotic fairy dust compared to actually spending time with them. Of course, for those whose friends and family are out of state (or out of country), this new digital communication is a godsend, and one that I find much solace in. But it should be an additional tool, rather than, as has been the case for many, the primary one, in our box of tricks for being human.
That's where localism comes in. We're very fortunate to live in the era we inhabit, because we have at our fingertips both the benefits of modern technology, and a relatively safe country that is filled with wonderful people. Sometimes with all the noise it's easy to forget that.
Localism is a very simple concept. Find people in your neighborhood and start meeting with them. Talk over dinner; chat over coffee, go play some sports together! This is putting a new name to a ridiculously old thing, and I apologize for restating the obvious like this, but it seems like in this day and age, it needs to be said again. Slow down. Meet people, new and old. Especially new. Stretch your wings a little. Expand your circle; I know it's hard, and if you're like me, that might give you heart palpitations (That's quite alright, sir/ma'am; step this way, we have a place for you in Introverts Anonymous).
As a political concept, localism is more important than ever. Politics have been practiced for the last few decades in that infamous top-down manner that leads to disassociation between politicians and constituents. The best politicians overcome this by staying in touch with the people they were elected by to represent, but we've arrived at the point we're at in this country because our organization as a people, of American citizens, has been fragmented. The solution is to bring all those fragments together, and to raise the level of discourse to include everyone. Easier said than done, right?
Well, yes, but it's not as insurmountable a task as one might think. If we assume we have to arrive at a full mobilization of the American people by this time next Wednesday, then yes, it's absolutely impossible and I think we'd all go into conniptions over the prospect. Putting aside unrealistic goals, though, localism is probably the best way out of this mess. Even better, it's fun. If you've got a bee in your bonnet, take the political interpretation of localism and run with it; I'm not stopping you! But localism is just a fancy word for making friends, and being with friends. That's something I'm sure we could all use a little more of, nowadays.
For the higher thinkers out there, localism can be applied to the internet using something I call the digital neighborhood. This is part of the reason we're so lucky to be alive right now; people we might never have met, who we can relate to, joke and laugh with, and find amazing in their own way are no longer strangers. We can make friends all over the country, and the planet, through the internet (or, as the case may be, in our travels), and the world wide web lets us stay in touch with each other.
The digital neighborhood is, you guessed it, a fancy word for community. But it has a few nuances to it. The idea is to gather like-minded people, who enjoy each other's company, and putting the tools in place so that community can have a central forum to communicate. We're actually in the Wild Wild West out here on the digital frontier. There's no set rules in place, and while structures have come and gone (RIP Myspace), it's still in our hands to invent what the internet is for. One of those uses, I propose, is to make it so members of a community, of that digital neighborhood, can help each other out. Or, perhaps more importantly, just have fun together.
Organizing ourselves into digital neighborhoods allows us Gen X'ers and Millenials to start the foundation of a new world that, at its best, allows us to meet face to face while keeping the advantages of instant communication through the internet. Want to take your digital neighborhood on a trip to India? Float the idea around, see who's interested. Fundraise. Plan things out; maybe there's someone in your group who's particularly good with finances, but not so much with scheduling. Not to worry, old Fred is ace at that. At its worst? You'll have a group of people who are stuck to their phones and not getting out into the real world.
If you really want to get into it, digital neighborhoods are a way of reconnecting. Let's say I have my digital neighborhood, and you have yours. Perhaps your community and mine aren't so different. We might not completely overlap, but we dig each other. Community to community, we can hang out, host parties, and maybe some of us will even become friends. Have your people talk to my people, I'll call on Monday.
That might be a rosy outlook, and I am quite aware that not all of us will get along with each other. However, in trying to address the lack of power of the average person, politically and otherwise, digital neighborhoods (and localism) seem like a pretty good thing. Look at it as kind of a Venn diagram; communities that are cool with each other will overlap, communities that aren't will stay separated. As in politics, sometimes we need to cooperate to achieve certain goals, and that requires us to be organized, in touch, and being able to trust each other. While we have got a long ways to go on that front between political parties, as people, we can begin that now, and have some (or a lot) of fun while we're about it. Because that's what it's all about, when it comes right down to it.
Localism: Fancy Word for Making Friends
Digital Neighborhood: Fancy Word for Organizing and Connecting your Peeps, Online