I’m watching the British Open, which is played this year at the home of golf in St. Andrews, and as the camera pans the 18th green you can’t help but see that the still-small town lines the last few holes of the course. The course is hundreds of years old and the town is likely a good deal older, I’m sure a quick Google/Bing search would confirm it. With images like these you can easily how community evolved and why it’s been so important to people for millennium.
With the rise of regional, then national, and, ultimately, global telecommunications the potential size of a community grew. Nevertheless, prior to the rise of the consumer internet ‘community’ was still primarily defined by geography.
With the web, and now with social networks, the way we define community either publicly or within our own minds has shifted. Now we define the community we’re a part of conditionally: I’m part of the startup community, the MBA community, the Christian community, etc. Yet, amidst our expanded ability to participate in a variety of communities it seems that to a great extent we’ve lost our connection to ‘community’ in its purest sense – a community of neighbors. How often have you walked through your neighborhood and passed someone on the sidewalk without either of you saying a simple, “hello.”
Rather than being freed from physical definitions of community we’ve fled from them. But this epidemic isn’t ubiquitous rather it’s strongly correlated to technology adoption – or, more accurately, reliance. In my post about unplugging I was inspired and refreshed by a trip to my hometown. When visiting small towns like Placerville you come to realize that there is still a glimmer of community out there. But we may be approaching an dangerous inflection point.
For years leading tech companies have tried to do local online but have failed because, I feel, they tried to address the problem with technology. Local is to the web like quantum mechanics is to physics. Cause and effect aren’t always predictably connected and understanding one doesn’t mean you can even conceive of the other. Now we’re seeing a good deal of startup activity around ‘hyper local’ with some attempts still being technical in nature and others taking the new tact of working with people in their local communities. Our startup, aptly named Hyper Local Media, is part of the latter movement.
We’ve created the Community Magazine Network to work with the 1200 or so community magazines in the US in an effort to rebuild community throughout the US, you can read the detailed story on the About Us page of MagazineConnect.com. There are a slew of potential local collaborations but local magazines are unique in that they are small and scrappy as opposed to corporate, their publications feature incredible images that are relevant to readers, and, most importantly, they highlight people in the community that as a reader you know or at least know-of.
There are a lot of startups trying a lot of different things. My hope is that ‘local community’ will be elevated as a result of our collective efforts. After all, I think our national identity and disposition may depend on it.
How would things be different if you made the same contribution to your local community as you do with the others you consider yourself a part of?