On the Verge of Replacement, 'Geographical Community' Survives

<p>The rise in virtual connections and Internet-based communities had many worried that traditional community interaction was dying out. <em>Governing</em>'s Alan Ehrenhalt argues it hasn't yet, and probably won't.</p>
June 19, 2008, 5am PDT | Nate Berg
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"A decade or so ago, having just written a book about the decline of community in America, I found myself giving speeches on the subject to audiences in different parts of the country. The reactions varied, but there was one thing I could always count on: Someone would rise during the question period and ask me about Internet communities. Aren't they the modern replacement for old-fashioned geographical community? Who needs street life when you can be in instant communication with a like-minded beekeeper or Bordeaux drinker anywhere in the world?"

"My answer was always simple and unyielding. Internet communities are a sham. They lack the permanence, commitment and even the reliability of face-to-face social interaction. Much of the time, you don't even know who the person on the other end is. The only genuine community, I kept repeating, was the kind where you can count on seeing your friends in person, week after week, year after year. Some audiences bought this; others didn't."

"In the ensuing few years, my rigid view took something of a beating. Internet relationships, if not full-fledged communities, began to take on a more stable quality."

"In view of all this, I feel the need to be a little cautious in suggesting that as we approach the end of another decade, the pendulum may be starting to swing again. Distance didn't die. Place didn't die. In fact, in much of what you see and read these days, you begin to get the feeling that place - the soil of old-fashioned geographical community - is making a comeback."

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Published on Sunday, June 1, 2008 in Governing
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