The last few years have been revolutionary in terms of our perception of community. Back in the old days, community was the neighborhood we lived in. It was our local coffee shop, our local diner, our local newspaper stand, our local grocery shop. When we traveled, we got a sense of physical distance from all the things that made up that community.
But as everything became more corporate, our local coffee shop became Starbucks and our local grocery store became Trader Joe’s or Costco. No matter where we went, we seemed to be at the same distance from those familiar places, and that helped people move from one place to the next. With the ease of moving, the concept of community was changed.
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media websites are becoming a new alternative to community. One is more updated on the lives of people living across the country or in another continent than on the lives of the people living next door. You see pictures of intimate moments of their lives — birthdays, weddings, babies smiling. You can read their thoughts when they are celebrating or grieving. You can share in their musical tastes and learn about their political views on an ongoing daily basis.
So while some might say this is a virtual community, to us it feels very real. While we might not actually be with them in all these moments, we are still there in spirit. We probably know more about some of our virtual friends than we know about some of the people living on our street (unless they are already our FB friends).
This new sense of community is redefining our world. And yet, many people still feel as lonely as ever. Is it human nature to feel alienated from the real world no matter what the virtual reality can offer us?
Only time will tell if our new world – with its new communities – will succeed in meeting our emotional needs.
Or if our sense of loneliness will force us to continue searching for what makes a real community, in a world where the virtual world seems more constant than our constantly changing real world.
It will be interesting to see how Hollywood tackles all these changes. At the heart of many movies is the sense of community. The fact that the idea of community itself is changing will have to change the essence of motion pictures itself. For now, TV – which always mirrors the zeitgeist – reveals two directions in dealing with this theme:
On one hand it shows us that audiences crave TV shows about family as a way to feel less alienated. Some of the most successful TV shows right now are Modern Family and The Goldbergs, which remind us that as flawed as family is – it is ours and it will always be there as a stable element in our lives for good and for bad.
On the other hand, hit shows like Orange is the new Black and Revolution, reaffirm to many the idea that in the modern world there is no community anywhere and we can’t trust anyone. Not even our families. Not in prison nor in a futuristic world where electricity has destroyed the idea of a virtual community and mankind is back to basic survival mode.
Our sense of community is evolving. Hollywood will continue to reflect on this evolution. And for all of us working here trying to capture the essence of our time, the questions will be: What do people want from their community? What does their community require from them, and how does that community justify its existence?