17 Jun 2017

Community is dying but nobody is watching

(Originally sent to my Aguanomics update mailing list)

It was about a decade ago that the iPhone and other "smart phones" came to the world. Little did we know that they would turn numerous people into zombies staring, swiping and liking whatever was "fed" to them by apps, websites and the like.

I grew up in the pre-internet era when TV had 3-5 channels, most people read the local paper, and buses and sidewalks were occupied by people who looked at each other. Although the internet (and related media) have brought us a deluge of content that's just right for me, that same freedom of choice has made it easier to forget what might be right (or useful) for others or society.

We've seen countries split into political factions claiming their own truths, pluralistic cultures dividing into "threatened" groups of Christians, Millennials or Blacks, and righteous groups forming around an endless circle-jerk of how special they are -- and others not.

These developments are changing us in slow and subtle, but serious ways: we are losing our communities.

I've blogged on these dynamics numerous times, have a paper "in press" on how people cooperate against a common enemy, and work hard to help our fledgling Leiden-University-College community work with its idealism and diversity.

Take a moment to look at your life. Do you have empathy sympathy for the people around you? To the point where you're happy to see your taxes help them, your work burdened (or assisted) by them, or your views resisted by them? Yes, it takes "two to tango," but social media and smart phones have made it ever easier to dance alone as "demands" -- including this newsletter -- fight for your attention.

I wouldn't mind losing my share of eyeballs if I knew that people were putting more time into their local community matters, but it seems that people are more isolated these days.

I have selfish reasons to say this -- as a public intellectual advertising new (sometimes uncomfortable) ideas, an entrepreneur asking others to support my climate-change projects, or as a teacher fighting students' addiction to "status updates" -- but I make these observations for all of us.

If there's one thing I've learned about sustainable communities, it's that connection is the key to success -- and survival.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas, but I also want your help:

Please consider contributing to the Life plus 2 meters Kickstarter, as that money will help me attract writers with diverse "visions" of life in a climate-changed world. I am crowdsourcing the money (and stories!) because I think these projects should be part of a community effort to understand and negotiate how we will live with each other. Check out volume 1 to get an idea of the diverse potential futures we may experience.

We're only $100 short of the $600 goal and there's about a week until the deadline. (If we go over, then I put more money into prizes :)

Please contribute here if you're in North America.

If you want to contribute outside of Kickstarter, then you can PayPal to dzetland@gmail.com, transfer € to NL80ABNA0518695174 or send Bitcoin to 19G1kvaqwKKoyJcqRXPPvBjPXrHTTKGaqY. Please add your name and email to any donations :)

This is a non-profit negative-profit endeavor -- here's the spreadsheet of expenses to date.


  1. Recently in Seattle for biz, I watched as thousands of tech heads walked and shopped.
    Your conclusion is on point.

    People not noticing a red light at a crossing. People not noticing a curb step and falling into the street.

    I asked a friend of mine in the police department and the number of pedestrian accidents has jumped up. In almost every case it was the result of distracted driver or pedestrian.

  2. Last summer, traveling in South Dakota & visiting Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, I was surprised at the fair number of times my wife, Vivian, and I came in contact with interesting people. These events happened at national parks, monuments, hotels and on hikes. We generally chatted and ended up learning from each other. I came up with the idea that there are certain points – localities – where such interactions are easy to initiate. I named these “Pulse Locales”. One can also create an artificial Pulse Locale – in person, or online. E.g. using Twitter. I have set my Twitter handle to @pulselocale.

    I am trying to help you with the task of creating functional connections. Let me know if you want to employ the above idea going forward. Clearly, conferences, alumni association meetings and other interest group events fall into the Pulse Locale area. Maybe there is a potential beneficial use of technology that can bring people together, regardless of their religion, politics or other ideology, just to meet and learn.

  3. I learnt of this article via an auto-email. In the same mail, you repeat your concern for climate change, but at the end say you are going on holiday to Japan - I presume by fossil-fuel powered plane. How to you justify this?

    1. I paid for the ticket. IMO, there's no "moral" case for cutting one's consumption when the commons is unprotected. Thus, I favor a carbon tax that applies to everyone. Even given that tax, the price of the airticket would not be that much greater (maybe 10%), so I would have made the trip anyway.

      (Oh, and I guess it's redundant to pojnt out that I followed the implication of your user name?)


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