We have had an ambivalent relationship with villages over the last hundred years or so. They have gone from communities to either city commuter havens unaffordable to locals or otherwise left as husks in abandoned industrial regions. Along the way, most have suffered a diminishing of the health that good communities afford; facilities, interdependence, knowledge and continuity. It takes a village to raise a child. And we have not replaced those communities. Workplaces are fragmented monocultures, and social media promotes conflict more than consensus (conflict attracts more eyeballs).
The thought occurred as I read in the FT Magazine over the weekend that younger generations rely on email and messaging to talk about problems more than face to face conversations with friends. It was compounded listening to Farming Today commentators on the pressures of industrial-scale farming as supply chain fragility bites. At one level, reliance on crop monocultures (large scale potato farming being rendered unviable by potato nematode cyst disease) and at the other vast volumes of milk are being poured to waste due to lack of lorry drivers.
At the same time, we have an epidemic of mental health issues in the workplace, as the workplace itself undergoes a transition as the uncertainty of the direction coronavirus makes any hope of full trains and offices a forlorn hope, and climate change dictates far less travel by car and plane.
I cannot help feeling that we are being pulled back into indigenous values – relationships, responsibility, reciprocity and redistribution. Perhaps the lowest common denominator of that is a reincarnation of the village. Not necessarily of the picture-postcard variety – although there may be some of that – but more the return of small, close-knit, semi-autonomous groups.
My own “digital village” has around a hundred people in it, from all over the world. We communicate often through various media, even though we have never, and may never, meet in person. We have got around that, and the connection is close, relationships genuine and responsibility accepted. We reciprocate and redistribute business and ideas we cannot use or do not want. We do it because we can, not for money.
None of us works for the same organisation, so the stultifying fear of office politics and internecine competition is absent, as is the frequent myopia accompanying hierarchies. When I combine my local physical community with my digital one, there is a richness that brings fulfilment and even joy.
The creation of this village has not been deliberate. Instead, it has arisen from people with similar values and broadly shared purpose finding each other through online serendipity.
It feels like a way forward as power moves from the top of hierarchies to the centre of networks, and I think it behoves us all to become part of the communities we want, rather than those served up to us by those who have different values. Village 3.0.
It seems like a place to start as we fumble our way into a post pandemic, trans climate crisis world.