The Death of Community... or is it?

Time magazine published its annual "Person of the Year" a few weeks ago, and unless you live in a cave, I'm sure you know the choice for 2006 is "You." Inspired by sites like YouTube, blogspot and myspace, the choice recognizes the average man as a voice in today's already noisy world. What's with the sudden surge of life from the public? Did it really just take a few Optimum online connections to get people speaking?

Time's announcement comes at a time when it's easy to be disillusioned about humans. People zone out to their iPods on the metro, spend a lot of time on cell phones and might complain about mega-stores like Walmart, but file into line to benefit from the low prices. I include myself in this category. If the family-owned stores are going out of business, if we're checked out of society and are alone within our IN-networks, where have our communities disappeared to?

Steve and I took a hike on Turkey Mountain yesterday and he brought his new GPS toy. About halfway up the mountain, he told me about a new phenomenon- Geocaching. The idea is that people hide a secret package anywhere and put its coordinates on the Internet. You can therefore plug in your zip code and, using your GPS tracking tool, navigate your way to the package. Armed with the clues and coordinates, we found the hidden package on Turkey Mountain and it was pretty amazing.

Inside the box was the history of this particular "cache" (FYI- "cacher" means "to hide" in French), as well as a log book and a bunch of random objects. The idea with these cache boxes is to sign the log book, take something and leave something new. We left a pen from Mom's work and took a firefighter figurine. It was really amazing to read through the past 6 years of entries; the box was placed on the mountain when I was a sophomore in college and Steve was in 8th grade. How could we have hiked the mountain all these years and not known of its existence?

As we descended the rest of the way to the car, we talked about how amazing it is that people organize something like Geocaching. And to bring this full-circle, I think that this is a perfect example of the way people are re-defining and re-creating communities. At a time when religion makes disturbing headlines on a weekly basis, maybe people feel like it's up to them to create something larger than themselves. So they hide boxes in the woods and hope that others will share the space with them.

This all reminds me of Postcrossing, a website that organizes the exchange of postcards around the world. I did this a few times when I lived in Rye; you enter your address and you get someone's address. You send a postcard and you soon receive a postcard from another person across the world. It's simple and cheap and it makes you feel like you're harmonizing with the world.

I know these types of communities aren't the same family-based structures as those which existed even 50 years ago, but how could they be? With an ever-displacing population and technology banging down the door, we've evolved in the only way we know how. Community might be re-defined in 2007, but it still exists.


Anonymous said...

i guess i live in a cave, didn't hear that I was Time's person of the year.. . pretty cool.


snieb said...

I can't believe I didn't know about this! Now I'm really going to have to get a GPS. Skersh will be so pleased...

seasideasr said...

i want to go on a Geocache treck w/ you guys sometime! (did steve do one in the city??) And i've been thinking about what you said about communities and i actually thing that with more emphasis on the individual there are MORE communities (just look at 'Face Book' - everyone can create their own group e.g. like Abby being the president of the "i love watching rossanne at 3 in the morning" club) it's just that the individual has more power to create and/or have an affect on said communities. i think we might be moving in the right direction, or at least an interesting direction...