Building offline community
Here’s a harsh reality of our current culture: I never have to leave my studio apartment in S.F. to live well. Current tech enables me to get:
- Groceries/Household Items (Google Express, Prime Now, Instacart)
- Food from any restaurant (Caviar, Eat 24, Grub Hub, Postmates)
- Exercise (Insanity, Instagram fitness celebs, YouTube)
- Entertainment (Netflix, Hulu, Prime, HBO Now … livestream SpaceX launches when hanging out with my boyfriend)
- Education/Current Events (GeneralAssemb.ly, Google News, Codeacademy)
- Laundry (Wash.io, Rinse)
- Cleaning (Handy)
- Communication (literally anything; FB, TW, Insta, Quora, Reddit, FaceTime, Skype, SMS)
It’s as if we are in “Room” (if you haven’t seen it, just take it literally), except we have everything we could possibly want and the ability to leave anytime we want. This is where it gets scary.
If we can get everything from the internet of service-based businesses, we don’t need to interact with the outside world.
The digital conveniences we all take for granted living in San Francisco enable introverted people the opportunity to live in a complete silo. But why do I mention this? It’s to illustrate the importance of community. Rewind 5 to 10 years ago, everyone used to interact with each other on the street. They said “Good morning.” Now, every single person has headphones or are on their cellphone, not even lifting their head.
I stop girls all the time to tell them how much I like their clothing or accessory item, and each time without fail, they give me a strange look of disgust, like “why are you talking to me?” After the first 15 seconds, they usually calm down and say thank you.
The only time you actually meet new people and develop relationships is when you have a shared experience. It could be a birthday party, happy hour or even a conference. The way to foster community in our city is to continue having these events. Events enable people to meet together for diversity or commonality, to experience new things. As a freelance event planner in The City, I can’t even express how difficult it can be to get events off the ground.
Like I said before, S.F. people already have everything they need to the point that they don’t ever have to leave the house. Conversely, people love events because it provides them new and exciting opportunities … and an excuse to leave the house. They inherently need offline community, because they are too digitally connected. Even the worst tech bros have one redeeming factor; they show up.
We need to keep (or start) talking to each other.
Despite the bad eggs that only show up to promote their personal brand or startup, the goal of good event is to keep a community alive. Look at the de Young Museum. They have a textiles group that are very serious about continually learning about the use of fabric throughout history. The only thing that enables this council to exist is their events. Because of them, I am now familiar with ballet russe costumes from the early 1700s to the 1970s.
By all means, I am telling a cautionary tale. The sociability of community promotes accepting people around you and not freaking out when someone says “good morning.”
Events teach people. Events also promote diversity. Put your phone down, look around and find something offline to participate in. This is our city. Don’t let it slip away into the banality of social media and the on-demand economy.
Let’s do more things together.
Originally published in the SF Examiner, 6/27/16