Sometime in late May, I will be starting up my motorcycle and going… somewhere. My only plan is to return to Southern Arizona by mid-August. Lots of Americans, lots of ideas, plenty of time to talk. The conversations from my last trip presented a million variations on the theme of uncertainty. This time, I want to dig a little deeper and start exploring one of the issues affecting uncertainty: community (or its absence). True, uncertainty is a big, catch-all phenomenon. Everyone is uncertain. We’ve always been uncertain, from the largest political developments to the tiniest personal choices. Yet it seems silly to dismiss uncertainty as a historical constant. Remember what the fortune cookie said: may you live in interesting times.
It’s a platitude to mutter that we live in a strange time, but platitudes can be true. There is no precedent for our current population, or our power of mobility, or the range of choices we are offered every day. There is also no precedent for our technology, which—another platitude—has potential to alienate people but also to form new digital communities. This is weird. We’re still negotiating it, reassessing the value of physical communities, trying out new alternatives, bellyflopping into the future.
So let me turn some cards over. I’m typically wrong, but I think a sense of community is essential to happiness. I think it helps banish a little bit of our uncertainty. Despite that, it seems like the role of physical communities in America have been eroding and I am skeptical that digital surrogates can take their place. We live packed together, but our behavior seems alienated, narcissistic, and disquieted.
Am I taking Bowling Alone too seriously? Am I a reactionary luddite? Sure! My sense could be wrong and, even if it’s not, a horde of other variables could explain the same observations. But who knows? I don’t. Nobody does. But a lot of people have ideas and experiences and, if I’m lucky, a few of them will take the time to share their thoughts.
That’s the plan. We’ll see how it goes. And, for all of my disparaging remarks about digital communities, I will be posting stories, photos, and more insufferable puns here throughout the ride.