“You know what’s missing in our world today? A real sense of community,” my friend said. We all nodded in assent. What happened to our village?
According to the dictionary, community is: “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.”
So, if by community you mean everyone says hello on Main Street to one another in a Cheers-everyone-knows-your-name vibe, this statement is very true. But later, I got to thinking about it as my multiple phone threads, alerting me every few seconds, and I shook my head. Community still exists, it just looks different today than it did 20 years ago.
Here’s another definition of community in the dictionary that is perhaps more relevant today: “A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”
Technology has allowed us to create mini-virtual communities that can still foster a real sense of belonging, especially if the members support one another and occasionally meet face-to-face.
On my phone right now I have family thread, a dance-moms’ thread, two runners’ threads, a paddle boarding thread, a book club thread, and a college friends’ thread. I am also often involved in a school moms’ thread or a cousins’ thread, depending on what is going on during a particular week.
There are plans being made, good-natured ribbing, and virtual support for anyone in need. There are friends offering to give a child a ride when a mother’s car breaks down before a big dance rehearsal. There are friends rallying around a fellow runner whose mother is sick. There are heart emojis and smiley faces being traded back and forth.
Social media also has this power too - to bring groups of people together to support and help one another. A perfect example is how a sign-up is sent out to help with meals the minute a family you know is in crisis. It gives us a tangible way to help one another.
Sure, people have probably brought meals to one another for centuries, but while these food chains used to be the sole territory of the church or workplace, now all it takes is a computer and a list of friends to make it happen.
I’m not saying these interactions replace face-to-face encounters, but they do have the power to bring people together quickly in our fast-paced world where time is a precious resource. And, for some people, who may not always be comfortable with in-person interaction, virtual communities may be their primary source of belonging.
So, lets re-define what community looks like. Let's not discount the new ways in which we have learned to connect with each other, to share our passions and to support one another. As parents and as friends, someone always has our backs, and that someone is just a few clicks away. My village is real, and so are the people in it, even if they do use way too many emojis …
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including some on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.