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How do we create community in the absence of communing?
Since we have moved online, Retrofit members have expressed gratitude that they can stay part of the community.
It has made me think about what makes a community. Before the pandemic, we belonged to many different communities – family, neighbourhood, work, clubs, teams, faith communities, cultural organizations, and health and fitness communities like Retrofit.
At the most basic level, what each of our communities shared was a common interest. But each of them also shared different physical spaces. So in the physical sense, our community in the pandemic has been reduced to our household.
Yet we quickly found ways to gather digitally – Retrofit’s classes are of course streaming online. You can watch church services and art performances via Facebook and YouTube. Zoom has experienced 50 per cent growth, with more 300 million members holding everything from business meetings to weddings on the platform. (Really, you know something is a phenomenon when Grandma says, “Let’s Zoom for Sunday dinner.”)
These digital communities speak to resilience and adaptability, which we certainly need, since it may be a long time before we can commune in person.
Long before the pandemic, our communities in modern urban environments had shifted, and in many cases grown smaller. Communities in smaller urban centres used to consist of family, school, work, trade union and church. And many people shared membership in many of the same communities. You stayed in the same communities your whole life. It became one big community.
Now, for many, family is dispersed and smaller. Many of us have moved to diverse larger cities. The very nature of work has changed – we change jobs often and many people have side hustles. Membership in trade unions and churches has shrunk. Cultural organizations fight for survival because audiences are dwindling.
For many people, this has created tremendous loyalty to their various communities.
So back to the question: What creates community? Is it a group of people you see every day or every week who share a common value or goal? Is it a shared send of identity? Is it a sense of support, a sense you are being cared for or guided?
I think it is all of these things. Ultimately, our digital communities remind us of our aching human need for a sense of togetherness.
Other questions lingers: When the pandemic ends and the fear ends, will we go back to our previous forms of community? Will many communities relocate permanently to the digital space?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Why is Retrofit important? What does this community mean to you?