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On finding time for community

I recently read through Neal Gorenflo’s Year of Living Locally, during which Gorenflo confined himself and his economic activities to his local neighbourhood (Mountain View, California) as much as he could. While living “locally” or “globally” or something in between doesn’t have any direct relevance to the topic of this blog, I’ve nonetheless written several times about how my own experiment has influenced my relationship with my local area (Wollongong, New South Wales).

Gorenflo reflects most positively on his experiences in meeting his neighbours and getting involved in the Cool Block Challenge, supposed to get local communities responding to climate change. In this he has taken a quite different (and much more aggressive) approach than I have, spending days or weeks knocking on doors looking for people interested in Cool Block where I’ve merely visited the local shops and taken holidays in the next city over. I rarely see my neighbours and when I do I say little more than G’day.

On the other hand, I have made more time to participate in more formal activities like annual general meetings of the various organisations that I’m a member of, local and state government consultation programmes, Bushcare, and holding office in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Formal activities might not be so touchy-feely as conversations with one’s neighbours, but are still (I think) important in observing and influencing what goes on in the local community. Or, perhaps, non-local communities that are arguably just as important in their own way: the communities of New South Wales and Australia at large, the community of mediaeval re-creators, the communities of engineers and academics, and so on. In any case I’ve kept in touch with plenty of people with whom I share interests and concerns, just not anyone over the fence.

Gorenflo seems to have created most of his new free time by giving up “screen time” rather than paid work. My own screen time has been low for a long time, watching less and less television as I’ve gotten older and having grown tired of “social media” even before the term had been coined. So low, in fact, that I find studies of how much time everyone else spends on such things barely credible (hours a day reading and watching that crap?!). In any case I’ve never heard any suggestion that anyone needs more screen time, unless maybe it comes from a television network or social media provider.

Lastly, I should mention that “local economies” have their critics. Gorenflo himself mentions Greg Sharzer’s No Local (2012), which points out many weakness of “localism” even if you don’t find Sharzer’s constant references to Marx a particularly compelling alternative. Gorenflo and I, for example, clearly benefit from the Internet and the machines that underpin it, even though neither are manufactured in our local communities. And, as already mentioned, other equally-important communities exist, including the community of people interested in localism.

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