Earlier this month I was back on the campus of my alma mater, USC, to attend the special kickoff event of JP Morgan Chase’s Global Cities Initiative, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase. Some pretty incredible people were there, like former Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and they were talking about how big cities like Los Angeles are in a great position today to interact with the rest of the world in new and exciting ways.
The event got me thinking about how all of us today relate to the world in new and exciting ways we never could have imagined before. Back in the early Nineties, for example, if you were asked to define “community,” you might have said it was something that was made up of the people in your town. Today though, thanks to the Internet, your community can include not just the people in your town but every person in the entire world. It blows my mind to think that – if it weren’t for the Internet – I would never have met some of my closest and dearest of friends. They would be living their life, I would be living mine, but we would never have crossed each others’ paths. It’s scary to consider.
The online communities I’ve become a part of have played an incredible role in my life. When I knew Maddie would be born premature, the online preemie community welcomed me with open arms. While in the community I lived in I was hard-pressed to find someone who had gone through what I was experiencing, the online preemie community was full of parents from all over the world who could give me much needed advice and support. The power of online community in that case was truly profound.
Online communities don’t have to be profound to be successful, however. When Mike moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco he missed being able to discuss his beloved San Francisco Giants and felt lonely surrounded by Dodgers fans. That all changed once he found a group of Giants fans online, and now he has friends he’s never met in person with whom he can discuss the beauty of Tim Lincecum’s hair (or whatever it is Giants fans discuss). Mike’s experience with this online community isn’t profound, but he is a happier person for having found it, so in a way it is kind of profound if you think about it.
As wonderful as online communities are now, they can grow greater still. The concept of online community is still new and evolving, and we can build bigger and better ones that play an important role in an even larger and more diverse group of people’s lives than they do now. Traditional geographical communities didn’t learn how to live in harmony overnight, and neither will Internet ones. But we can and will build bigger and better online communities, of that I am certain.
We live in exciting times. Back in the early Nineties, when I rocked flannel and set my VCR to record “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” I had no idea just how dramatically the way I interacted with the rest of the world would change. I may be older now and no longer rock flannel, but the possibilities that lie ahead are even more exciting than they were then.