Community Transformation: Digital to Local

I have recently seen and heard many conversations focusing on how technology has impaired us from being able to communicate and interact with each other in the analog world.  Kids have their noses buried in phones and laptops, neighbors don’t know each other within a community block. We have certainly leaned away from relying on our geographic neighbors, but there are some very heartwarming and positive aspects of our current telecommunication state of the art that I’d like to reflect on.

In the past decade and a half that I’ve been involved with the DIY music community, social media platforms have served as a very important bedrock of activity.  Great community has been built on connections made through web platforms that allow people to find new artists and connect with people drawn to similar art. The reason this stands so significant to me, is that has revolutionized our ability to find this non-local group of people with similar tastes in music, interests, experiences, and values.  It’s these commonalities that can provide the rich basis for meaningful relationships. In the small geographical communities that we all exist in, we don’t necessarily come into contact with many people that we share these characteristics with.

From a network of bands and fans taking part in local shows, to the festivals that have been happening for a long time there is a new flavor of community.  That flavor is in meeting, in person, people that you have shared time with digitally. Festivals have always been a place for meeting new people with similar interests, but the ‘Where’s Waldo’ style of searching for people you see on the forums and in the groups brings a certain excitement (read anxiety for some) and opportunity for a first meeting to feel more like a reunion between people and groups flung across the world, contient, country, state.

Flood City Fest in Johnstown, PA is one of these festivals that I have had the pleasure of writing about in the past. I spent the past few days attending and performing my 2nd annual FCF alongside several great Chroma artists.  I knew I was going to write this blog post and tried to be very intentional about seeking out those folks that I know from the internet and at the VERY LEAST introduce myself to them. I met face-to-face with some of the folks from the conference call I had about intentional music community back a couple months ago. I spoke to artists that I saw perform last year but neglected to engage with at the time.  I met people that I’ve seen at several fests around the midwest and in various online forums but had held at a ‘looks familiar’ distance.

Did I form any incredible bonds this weekend? Not with anyone new. But in brief introductions to digital-turned-real-life friends there’s a refreshing reminder that this community is made up of discrete individuals spread across the world.  Each engaging and contributing in their own way, with their own strengths, weaknesses, fears, and frustrations. For someone that gets discouraged about attendance at local shows, frustrated with reception of art I’ve released, tired from being just one person fighting an impossible battle, this sort of engagement is very important.  There are people who care about art and community. There are people who care about using this platform as a place to advocate for those without voices and those without perceived value. These beautiful people are sprinkled into various areas to seed creativity and beauty on a broad scale.

I was introduced to this community through online discovery.  As we engage with this community and become more and more encouraged by it, we can continue to play it out in our local community.  The local community begins to discover the online extension of what they’re already doing. The cross-pollination of local and digital community is encouraging to watch.

nother annual event that I’m excited for is our DIY Facilitator Roundtable at Audiofeed Fest in Champaign-Urbana, IL July 4-6.  For the past several years we’ve invited folks who are active in their local DIY scenes to come and meet with each other to share experiences and ideas.  It’s an open forum to discuss YOUR involvement with making the DIY scene happen. Some people play in bands, house bands, cook for bands, host shows, etc. We talk about what’s encouraging and what’s frustrating, what issues people are running into, and what solutions you have recently worked through.  We’re always seeking clever ways to make a positive impact that we can share with each other.