I came to Yellow Springs to study community. Seriously. It was in the job description of my first employment out of college, at Community Service, Inc. (now Community Solutions), the organization founded by Arthur Morgan that envisioned “a world of small, local communities.”
After the interview, I got a pile of Morgan’s books as part of my orientation. What struck me most were Morgan’s passages about Yellow Springs — my new home. When Morgan talked of his village, his writing came to life. Oft-discussed concepts, like conviviality, mutual aid and neighborliness, became animated as he talked about the collective commitment of villagers to their chosen place.
Nearly 15 years later, I am still an avid student of community, with most of my learning coming through practice. There is probably someone at the Emporium right now who could, by sharing their life story, give me a thesis on the topic. I still feel like I’m in orientation, while I have learned a few things, like the principle of showing up, the art of reaching out and the terribly vulnerable act of asking for help.
Philosophically, I am a Morganian. So I bristled when I read a series of questions Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted in a recent post on the social network looking at the year ahead. “In a world where many physical communities are disintegrating,” he asked, “what role can the internet play in strengthening our social fabric?” It seems if it were up to tech companies, we might give up entirely on such “physical communities” and seek all of our connection, joy, delight and fulfillment through our digital doubles.
In 2019, reading a newspaper is a radical act. So is birdwatching, listening to vinyl records, visiting with a friend or cooking a meal. Such actions may not be the “wave of the future,” their reality neither augmented nor virtual. But they form the basis of a more tangible social fabric in a physical community full of beings and things — stuff like people, trees, birds, books, furniture and artwork. What kind of “fabric” is it if you can’t touch it, smell it, hug it?
Writer Neil Postman says that media, at its essence, is about having a conversation with ourselves about ourselves. Media, social or otherwise, reflect a version of reality back to us. It tells us a story about who we are, what we care about and what we aspire to. These collective narratives inform our personal narratives, and vice versa. As much as the human journey is about self-discovery, our media play an essential role.
But all media are not created equal. As Marshall McLuhan points out, a medium’s form shapes its content. What kind of political discourse, for instance, can be had via tweet? Context is lost in much of the media ecosystem these days. No wonder many feel adrift, untethered, and unmoored, being primed by our media to ever seek novelty but increasingly only finding triviality. However, the Yellow Springs News — a conversation with the community about the community — moves at the speed of the week, that is to say, slowly, deliberately and thoughtfully.
In a comment on Zuckerberg’s post, someone purportedly living a few doors down from him asked him to sit down and have the same conversation with those living in his neighborhood, even as he reaches out to talk about it with “the world.” It seems Zuckerberg is indifferent to his own physical community while creating a poor substitute.
Physical communities may be disintegrating, as Zuckerberg notes. But I differ on the path forward. Why not save what is left of such places, reweaving the frayed threads of a tenuous social fabric rather than discarding the project altogether? In Yellow Springs, we struggle like many places, but here, where local arts thrive, local food flows, and local news circulates, I would argue we are somewhat more resilient, more integral.
The brave new world of 2019 holds its share of challenges for all us, including those of us at the Yellow Springs News. So far we have survived through both media consolidation and digital transformation, remaining independent, locally owned and committed to the weekly ritual of creating a physical artifact to aid in the process of knowing ourselves.
In the coming weeks we will be sharing our vision for the News, and asking for yours. In February we will launch a survey of the community to hear more about what you want your community paper to be. The future is uncertain. What is clear to me is that the more the community participates in these pages, the more viable the News will be, and the stronger the social fabric of our very physical community. —Megan Bachman