Communications 101 seems to be changing. We watch quite a few British mysteries. Many take place in or around villages scattered about the Islands of Great Britain. I suppose it is but one of many reasons we love watching these shows. Partly, we love mysteries. But also, the British mysteries seem to be as much about the place and the interesting characters, as the whodunit. One of the shows we watched the other evening took place in a village. As one of the cops is interviewing one of many villagers, the fellow comments about the death at issue. He knows some of the details, and the copper asks, “how did you know that?” The fellow responds, “Oh, it’s all over the village. Everyone knows.” And that characterizes much of village life, as portrayed in these shows. And it isn’t that the shows are supposed to be taking place in 1840. No, they are relatively modern, say the 1990s. Yet, it seems clear that a prime characteristic of village life is that folks talk with one another—men mostly at the village pub (and there is always a village pub) and the women sometimes there, but often at other social gatherings. But the main thing is that village folks talk with one another as the dominant means of communication. Nothing much happens within the village that isn’t known throughout the village quickly.
Now this communications method could be a function of life in British small towns, but I rather think it is/was life in small towns everywhere, i.e., life before the Internet. That is, people used to talk with one another about life in the neighborhood. As I said, people spoke often within their village pub, or at church coffees, sewing circles, or the farm markets. Because everyone remained interested in things of and about the village, which was often the center of local conversations, as distinct from, say, whether the Labor party head had really said that Brexit was a fraud.
Then, enter social media. And two things begin to occur within the context of social media. First, the conversations about village life stop being the center of conversation. Instead, what Nigel Farage said about how his previous comments about Brexit were obviously not meant to be taken seriously, or whether Donald Trump actually said that if he were to be impeached, the stock market would crash and everyone would become poor.
And then, the next thing that occurs is that folks begin to form little groups based on what they think/believe about what is being said somewhere else—the silos form. And even though folks may have held disparate views about life in the village, or who was shagging who, mainly then, they still talked with one another, and maybe even argued about various village life affairs. Now, they simply align themselves with other folks, most of whom they do not even know, and their views become hardened by the apparent support of these others whom they do not know.
Now, we do not really live in a little village in Great Britain, or even within these here now United States. Oh, we live in a village, Concord by name, but that village is no longer a real village. The former village is now but a cluster of homes, surrounded by as far as the eye can see by similar clusters of slightly newer homes, and occupied by people who look outside the village for employment and for entertainment. The village is no longer the draw it used to be, and even the village pub is not quite what it once was. Oh, some village folks still gather occasionally at the pubs, but the gatherings now differ in kind and population. And the conversations are different now, with village life being but a minor aspect of the conversations.
The new forms of communication represent a kind of unraveling of village life. Even if the villages still exist (at least here in the USA) the folks who occupy them seem different in outlook and background, with relatively fewer being stock of “the old guard”. Folks now drift in and out of these villages, and the communications no longer seem to be of and about the village. The silos remain and, although villagers still say howdy when they encounter one another, the communication largely ends with the howdy.
Now, assuming my characterization is even remotely accurate, does it matter at all, in any important aspect? Well, I think we have begun losing something. It occurs to me that we used to have a body of personal issues that we shared as village neighbors, or perhaps just as neighbors. Growing up next to one another, we understood each other by shared history, and even shared likes and dislikes. Now, the village is fading as a centerpiece of our culture, and it seems not to be replaced by anything. Social media does not substitute for a common understanding based on shared culture and history. Oh, we might identify with one another by our silo sharing, but the silos are often shallow places and limited in content and perspective. We love or hate MAGA, or Donald Trump, or the NRA, or gays, or abortion, but those issues tend not to hold the same weight as what we have lost in terms of village life and culture. And I wonder what we are losing in terms of being British, or American, or French, or Canadian? Donald Trump seems to violate almost every value we hold as Americans. Yet his folks continue to love him. How can that be? Would the “villagers of old” have been better able to form opinions based on their village identity and their view of their village as a part of their country? Actually, I think perhaps they might have. I like to hope it is still possible to retrieve these shared values communications, and that by crawling out of our respective silos, we might regain some of our humanity.