Growing up in a town that has only one stoplight has changed my perspective on community and what it means to be a part of one, I think. In a town where everyone knew everyone else’s business the minute they opened their mouths, it was impossible to be a total loner. Around dinnertime, when the streetlights began to wink on, casting rosy circles of light on the old side street, we’d meet out in the yard in groups, calling to one another. I don’t live in that small town anymore, but sometimes I think about it, the memories re-imagined in that idyllic half-truth in which all memories resurface.
It occurred to me today that community isn’t what it used to be. (Yes, I realize that I sound like an old fuddy-duddy complaining about the good old days). Here’s the thing: there’s a lot our generation doesn’t even miss. How can you miss something you don’t even know about? Some would say that community now falls under the category of a dying tradition. You know, like walking to school uphill, barefoot in a snowstorm or Air Jordans and acid wash jeans. Where I might have asked a friend for help, I now go to Google or YouTube to learn how to do pretty much anything. I’ve noticed that the people I know commute long distances, work online and send status updates, but I don’t even know most of the people in my neighborhood well enough to ask for a cup of sugar.
This got me thinking. What does this mean for the state of stories and the people who write them? If we are always present online, does it mean we are missing moments in our own realities?
That being said, I do happen to be writing on a blog. I love my blog and I love the people who read it. Since starting considerablespeck.com, I’ve felt more connected to writers (and writing) than I have in a long time, being that I am quiet, weird and never socialized much before The Internet happened.
There is a quote from Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities that has stuck with me:
So where does this leave us? Is anonymity the new community? What about that small town, with the kindly neighbors who sat on front porches and knew exactly what grades you got in school or whether you had a date to the fall dance? It didn’t hit me until this morning, when I logged onto my writing group and was excited to hear what they had to say about my latest literary pursuits that I realized something. Small towns are everywhere. I think we make them up as we go, those idyllic meeting posts out under the street lamps. Community is what we make it and it doesn’t have to be anonymous, even if they exist online. Small towns are re-imagined through the people that we choose to connect with—wherever they might be.