Community may suffer from overuse more sorely than any word in the dictionary. Politicians left and right sprinkle it through their remarks the way a bad Chinese restaurant uses MSG, to mask the lack of wholesome ingredients. But we need to rescue it; we need to make sure that community will become, on this tougher planet, one of the most prosaic terms in the lexicon, like hoe or bicycle or computer. Access to endless amounts of cheap energy has made us rich, and wrecked our climate, and it also made us the first people on earth who had no practical need of our neighbors. In the halcyon days of the final economic booms, everyone on your cul de sac could have died overnight from some mysterious plague, and while you might have been sad, you wouldn't have been inconvenienced. Our economy, unlike any that came before it, is designed to work without the input of your neighbors. Borne on cheap oil, our food arrives as if by magic from a great distance (typically, two thousand miles). If you have a credit card and an Internet connection, you can order most of what you need and have it left anonymously at your door. We've evolved a neighborless lifestyle; on average an American eats half as many meals with family and friends as she did fifty years ago. On average, we have half as many close friends.
I've written extensively, in a book called Deep Economy, about the psychological implications of our hyperindividualism. In short, we're less happy than we used to be, and no wonder -- we are, after all, highly evolved social animals. There aren't enough iPods on earth to compensate for those missing friendships.
SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT? I keep thinking all this running around that I'm doing--delivering bread to the somali family, soup to the man under the bridge, photos to the Burmese kids-- is my personal response to the lack sociopolitical integration in my immediate damnably small circle of connections in this here world. Can making social connections be an art form? --If you look at the history of art it's full of materials and methods that are going out of style, so maybe building a network through the community with face to face interactio-- so 90's, (1890's)-- so passe-- could be a new art form. My art is networking--not on facebook, but on foot.