We have gone from being a society of communities to a society of networks. The difference between community and network…? A century ago we lived in communities, extended families of multiple generations. Everyone knew everyone else, and everybody knew everybody’s business. Everyone knew everyone else’s likes and dislikes, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, problems, and successes. Families produced whatever the community needed. It was not so much about money changing hands as knowledge, skills, and goods. The needs of one family were different than the needs of another, the interests and skills of one individual were different than those of another. We knew each other as whole, three-dimensional people.
In early communities, children went to school during breaks from chores and harvest. They learned to read, write, and “cipher”, because those were the skills that they needed in order to contribute to the community. They learned in mixed age groups; those who learned faster could help the others. Children went to school to learn how to generate resources to meet the needs of their family and the community.
After WWII we began to “make progress”. There came compulsory schooling and children were organized in single-age groups. It was established that there was only “one right way to learn”, and teachers had to be “certified”. Now families released their children to strangers for the better part of the day, for the better part of the year, for the better part of childhood. Community began to take a back seat to the interests of big business. Children had to be taught to be good students because good students make good employees. We began to move away from community toward network.
Today we join virtual groups Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. We share a common interest and that is the extent of what we know about the others in our group. Many groups are virtual. We can entirely remake ourselves and no one will know the difference. We are interested in this or that. We exist in one dimension and hide the parts we don’t want to share.
Today very few people know anything about the others in their neighborhood. Children have moved away from family and lost contact. There is little interest in what resources the community needs, what skills, talents, or interests are there. No one knows anyone’s flaws or failures, bad habits, personality quirks, addictive behaviors, good or bad.
Today, middle-agers go to work to make enough money to afford two income thirty-year mortgages; seniors settle into a sedentary lifestyle, enduring hours of isolated boredom, broken up by trips to the doctor; the elderly are shut away in nursing facilities that collect the balance of any money they may have; “stuff” accumulated over the years sits in cellars and attics, barns, sheds, storage units, or rots in piles in the front or back yard;
Today children are segregated by age, confined in classrooms, kept away from community. Our traditional educational system has guaranteed our inability to think independently or critically. We cannot recognize inequality, discrimination, or social injustice. We jettison anything that isn’t fast and convenient. We consume everything and generate nothing of value to the community, the family, or ourselves. Our lives stagnate with the inability to see the potential for change.
It’s damaging emotionally for us and our children and grandchildren. Networks keep us from knowing each other and learning and growing as whole people. And because we don’t interact with three-dimensional people, we never learn how to build relationships with people who are different than us. We miss the energy generated by coming together to negotiate our differences. We miss the potential for building community.
Perhaps the answer is to take networks one step further, a network where the common interest is restoring our communities. Let’s care about each other’s physical and emotional health; let’s pay attention to personal finance and the economic health of our communities; let’s help each other with lifelong learning and keeping our brains and minds healthy well into elderhood. Let’s care about creating a thriving future for our children…a network of thriving communities. Now that would be different.