Why Community Organizations are Essential

Today we see an unprecedented loss of social groups around the country. This was well documented in Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone in which he argues that the rise of technology has led to the loss of social groups and a general apathy that people have for each other in the Modern Age. It’s an interesting social commentary on the effect of technology on the human psyche and our social groups, but it was also prescient, considering it was produced in the 90s before the advent of social media. Young people, now more than ever, are fleeing from these social institutions and replacing them with online communities, and that is a problem.

There’s a significant risk that the institutions of today will eventually fall by the wayside due to a lack of interest and participation. This isn’t, however, because they’re obsolete. Up until about 30 years ago, social groups comprised the majority of people's connections. The most prominent example is church. Church attendance has seen a decline, which shows the great societal apathy the people of today have for those around them and formerly-powerful institutions. Today’s society was built upon social groups like the church and other community organizations because that is what people depended on, not only for moral instruction, but also for social and emotional wellbeing. It was a place meet friends, potential spouses, and professional connections.

Now more than ever, institutions are having a difficult time finding new energetic people to maintain and conserve their organizations. Those who would fill those positions have abandoned traditional face-to-face community interaction for an online substitute. But it’s a poor substitute, given they are an empty spiritual successor of traditional communities. Face-to-face interaction and a handshake were king back then and, in reality, they still are, despite the advances in Silicon Valley. These online communities suffer from relationships that are more shallow than those that would have been formed in a traditional community organization. This isn’t to say that online communities are worthless, but those relationships are worth less due to the nature of the bond.

The former model of becoming involved in community organizations is still as effective today as it was in times past. While it’s true that online communities can fill a social void, it’s no substitute for the meaningful connections that spring from face-to-face interactions. I worry that in the future the demise of these community organizations will hurt enterprising young people. The loss of these organizations limits the the number of groups with which youth can associate, and strangles the benefits that they can reap from those associations.

The march of progress will continue forever as it always has, but let’s hope that what doesn’t get swept aside by social media are the community organizations that have formed the backbone of human social interaction for thousands of years.