Thursday, December 14, 2006

It Must Be Christmastime, I'm Getting Sappy

A few years ago Robert D. Putnam wrote a book called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

I haven’t read the book, but probably neither did any of the media handwringers who gave it so much airtime. I’m sure you remember the premise: Thanks to all those evil modern inventions like TV and cable and the internets, Americans are isolating themselves from their good old-fashioned communities, sitting home, staring at screens and wondering why they feel so isolated and alone.

And the proof of this? People weren’t joining bowling leagues as much as they used to.

(Hey, I know this is probably a criminal over-simplification of the man’s thesis. I know he probably has all sorts of fancy sociological charts and graphs to buttress his points. But if Big Media can criticize a person’s lifework based on the information on the book jacket, I don’t see why some two-bit blog hack like yours truly can’t do the same.)

This being the “holiday” season (sorry, Bill-O!), thoughts of family and community are naturally to the fore. It’s a shitty time to be alone. It’s a shitty time to be lonely. It’s a shitty time to be a modern isolated American – damn you, internets!



In the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone to two wonderful get-togethers. Neither was a traditional family gathering. But both were heartwarming gatherings of folks who simply like each other very much. Both were internet-based.

The first was a brunch for the New York-based denizens of a certain internet political crack den. It wasn’t the first such event, nor will it be the last. There have been lunches, dinners, movie nights, bad movie nights, trips upstate, trips out-of-state. All by a bunch of people who would never have met if not for their computers.

The other was a gathering of fans of a particular TV reality game show to watch the finale together in a bar in Manhattan. There were folks there from all over the country. Nerdy? You betcha! Not only fans were there, but contestants from that show, as well as contestants from other reality TV shows. It wasn’t an officially sponsored event; there were no news or network cameras there. We just got together because it’s fun and it’s become a tradition to do so, and some folks were good enough to make all the arrangements. Again, none of this would have happened without the dreaded internet.

It’s not a new or particularly deep insight but it’s always good to remember, especially at this time of year: Community, and family, are where you find them and where you build them. Blood families can be wonderful or awful things (often at the same time), but they’re not the only kind of family. Thanks to the internet, I’ve met some wonderful people I would never have encountered otherwise, including Our Illustrious Host here, and my life is richer for it.

So, Mr. Robert D. Putnam, if you can’t find community on the internet, may I suggest you’re looking in the wrong places? Or maybe you just don’t want to find any evidence to contradict your precious premise.

In which case I’m sorry for you, ‘cause you don’t know what you’re missing.

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