These days you can truly can almost anything you “need” through convenient apps. I personally get my groceries delivered, and living without a car in a major city, it’s a blessing.
Yet there are certain things an app can’t deliver. I’ve often talked about this in terms of skill sets, such as language learning. I can’t tell you how many people I know who tell me (since I’m a polyglot) “oh I’m trying to learn Arabic on DuoLingo but it’s not really working”. With a despairing, frustrated look.
That’s because language learning requires communication to become truly proficient. So while apps can aid, it doesn’t remove the need for old-school conversation, immersion, and instruction from a skilled teacher.
Much like apps can’t “teach you” Arabic or Chinese as if they were a product in a grocery store to put in your online cart, they can’t substitute the need for community.
That isn’t to say online communities aren’t real- they are and should be appreciated. I am able to keep in touch with friends across continents in ways unimaginable just 10 years ago. If we can agree that tools like social media can facilitate connection, then perhaps it’s a matter of the type of connection you’re building- and how.
One of the things that has become apparent to me over the past few years is the importance of deep-seated and authentic community. Where you share your troubles and your joys- and are there to listen to others and show gratitude for their friendship.
For me, that community has often centered around Judaism. In particular, Israeli folk dancing, synagogue, language practice groups, and young professional spaces (such as Moishe House). When you see the same people over and over again on a regular basis, you’re bound to make friends of all types. It’s natural- it’s the kind of friendships many of us miss from our college days when you could bump into people spontaneously on campus.
What I’ve found is that these friendships can be supplemented by online communication, whether it’s inviting people to Facebook events, talking on messenger to stay in touch or make plans, etc. The internet can also help you find new groups to get involved in, such as MeetUp.com or various organizations’ social media pages. What seems clear to me is that, generally speaking, if digital media is used to connect to other people in “real life”- or to keep in touch with friends you’ve met face-to-face, then it is a net plus. The key is that there be some component that connects you to a face-to-face interaction- past, present, or future.
What I can say is that I’m very grateful for the communities I’m a part of. It’s the dozens and dozens of times I’ve been invited to Shabbat meals, to crash on someone’s couch, to hop in someone’s car to Israeli dancing, and more. It makes me feel cared for, part of something bigger. And it gives added meaning to life in a sometimes harsh and hyper-individualistic world.
Communalism is, perhaps for that reason, making a bit of a comeback. Sometimes it takes an ugly tone, when its extreme forms lead to exclusion or racism. Sometimes it takes a political tone, such as a resurgence of interest in socialist politics. Sometimes it is simply reflected in individuals bucking the “apps solve life” trend and pitching in and helping another human.
Perhaps more than anything else, it’s a series of mini rebellions against the idea of the “self-made man”. The idea that one individual can do it all on his or her own, just given the right smartphone and bank account. Because even if you can do many things with greater convenience, it can’t replace the warmth of a hug nor singing Israeli folk songs in the car with my friends Yisrael and Penina.
It’s a rebellion against loneliness, against isolation and hyper self-sufficiency. And a step towards a recognition that we are dependent on each other and even if we do so imperfectly, it’s better to be part of a community than stand in purity without one.
It’s a lesson I’ve learned and incorporated into my life. If you’re one of the many people who’ve welcomed me into their homes, their cars, their meals, their lives- I’m grateful for you. Whether it was last week or last decade.
Because humans are social animals (yes, we are animals). And we’re meant to spend time together. And even if there’s a lot we can do on our own, and sometimes should, life is easier and richer when you can count on others. And when they can reach out to you.
Wishing you a strong sense of togetherness with people who bring you enrichment, love, and kindness. And grateful for all my blog readers who have made my journey more beautiful and hopeful. L’shalom – towards peace, Matt.