Lessons from Vermont on Community

Thursday, Sarah and I went to our first Feast & Field market. She had recently interviewed one the people behind the group for our YouTube channel, and as we had taken off Friday to clean the barn in anticipation of shearing Camissa — among other chores — everything lined up.

It was a beautiful evening, and we had local tacos, beer & wine for our supper, and then shopped for local pasture-raised beef, and vegetables.  There was live music and people dancing and laughing. We knew a few faces, and caught up with folks we hadn’t seen recently. We met some new people, and I met some people I only knew over phone and email from my day job at the local cooperative fiber optic Internet. Sarah exchanged emails with a nice guy working at the beer and wine counter about potentially modeling some of her knitting creations. And on our way home we stopped by Kiss the Cow dairy and picked up a pint of sea salt & caramel — on the honor system as they were still at the event down the road.

We were there for only an hour and a half, and most of the time I sat listening to the live music and just watching it all unfold in front of me. But staring at the blue sky with wisps of white clouds, and listening to the combination of live music and the hum of the people, I had a revelation.  More of a duh moment, but an idea nonetheless.

At the start of the year I decided to delete the F*cebook app from my phone, and to hide Tw*tter from the home screen. It felt good. Three weeks ago I decided to deactivate my Twitter account in solidarity with some people attempting to get the company’s attention in regard to the poor moderation, and the general shitty wasteland the once thriving service had become. Honestly, for the most part, I don’t miss it. A few people, but the toxic nastiness not so much.

Perhaps because of the DeactiDay movement; I revisited the Mastodon account I had set up earlier and started posting more. I looked harder for ways to duplicate the automated tools I had created with IFTTT to post to birdsite; and for the most part have easily been able to do so with the kind help of members of Mastodon.

In short, I decided to return to my own online roots. In the early nineties that was an IRC channel or two. As the web became more graphic-based, and publishing tools became easier to use, I turned to blogging to express myself and met like-minded people with whom to exchange thoughts and experiences.

Shortly after that I joined a nascent online “community weblog” started by one of the people behind Blogger, and met many more people who could be civil and discuss concepts and ideas. That community turns 20 next year, and is still going strong. It supports itself through membership fees, and donations from community members, and pays the moderators — all of whom are trusted members. There is advertising, but the lion’s share is hidden from paying, logged in members. It is self-policing.

But as the Internet consumes more of our thoughts and time, it is also an ever-changing organism with innovations constantly in motion. Businesses took notice. Google bought Blogger. Yahoo bought Flickr, which was recently purchased by Smugmug. Companies started competing for eyeballs to sell things via advertising, and advertising started spying on people. First for metrics to measure if they were reaching their intended audiences, and then to follow them as they went about their Internet lives.

Facebook went from a service reserved for college students ostensibly to network with one another, but also to gossip and bully. Then Facebook went public and the intimate voices turned to more noise, and more bullying. And people used the tracking to manipulate people and lie to them. That toxicity then spreads to the friends and family around us as the anger, and anxiety builds up, and divides rather than unites people.

What I’m getting at is that it’s hard to find community in a constant stream of noise, and that bigger is rarely better. We moved to Vermont partly to experience a sense of community.  A state that prides itself on local democracy, and tries to be as self-sufficient as possible; knowing that your neighbor will be there when needed.

With that in mind, I have moved some stuff around on this site, and moved some content to other sites. The webcam is part of our site, Gage Hill Crafts, where we share a great deal of our lives including recipes, travel recaps, interviews with local craftspeople, and much more.

On this site, you can read this blog, which will sometimes include personal anecdotes or thoughts. There are links to interact with me on other sites. For photography, I am posting original content to Instagram, which in turn is also posted on my Flickr account, so you can decide which you prefer.  And I am no longer going to use Twitter, so look for me on Mastodon.