I spend four days a week up in the woods about 90 miles outside of New York City. I’m building a house.
There is a small town nearby, it’s really just a four-corners, and the other day I attended my first town meeting, of any town ever. I was surprised to find their government so earnest, to observe my neighbors practice an atom-sized form of community organization with such devotion. It made me feel that my world view is one-dimensional, that for my entire adult life I’ve focused on Internet enterprise and I use a lens that obscures everyone as a user — and here are many people succeeding with basic democracy and civility, and they’re ignorant to the optimism for technology solving all that I represent.
Related, being up there makes me realize that when I’m in the city I judge myself, and my peers, by my and their abilities to be productive and wealthy. When I’m away, the criteria for what makes me successful is far more complex: What have I done for my spouse, my neighbor, my community? How have I worked to rise the tide, to improve the livelihood for those immediately around me, how can I serve them? — I wonder. I feel good when I prioritize these thoughts.
I’ve also been attending meetings here in Williamsburg like this. I read Bowling Alone recently (highly recommended). The demise of these kinds of connections with your own neighbors struck me in a very significant way. But this post would have struck my grandfather as odd– “what do you mean you aren’t involved in your community groups??” Knowing your neighbors and your community is something very human, something we’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years. Just because we have the internet doesn’t mean we should disregard so much history. These kinds of meetings established and built our civilization. It reminds me of this quote from my best friend’s father-in-laws’ father:
Television ruined America, not because of the content, but because it got people off their porches.
The internet is doing the same thing. Hopefully, the internet crowd realizes this and, over the next decade, starts putting their intellectual might into bringing neighbors closer together. This is what I was trying to do with Hello Health– bring those in my neighborhood closer to their doctors.