Phoenix Riting! – October 14th, 2021


I’ve lately pondered the puzzle of how we as a community might migrate to a convenient online forum that was not owned by a massive corporation with inscrutable motives and dubious methods. I recalled Duncan McCaskill speaking many years ago on the subject of an intranet, located on the island, owned by and accessible only by the community. That sounded promising, so I contacted Duncan to ask him about it. Would it indeed be feasible to establish a locally situated intranet server system here?


Early on, we encountered a communication glitch. As I had created WordPress sites in the past, Duncan assumed I spoke the language. Not so! I merely read instructions and puzzled things out. Meanwhile Duncan, an expert on computer systems and communications technology, had been rattling on as if I were a peer in the field. Once we sorted that, he dumbed things down for me, and a fascinating and illuminating conversation ensued.


The answer was “Yes, maybe, no.” With an existing fibre optic system such as may be coming through CityWest, it could technically be possible, but since the infrastructure is owned by outside agencies and used for their purposes, we can’t access it. Should society crash and burn, we survivors might conceivably rig up a local intranet using existing fibre optic infrastructure. But until the crash of civilization, it seems we are stuck with the existing Internet.


There are alternatives to Facebook, however. Duncan suggested we could set up a Discord server to create a flexible community forum with the capability to accommodate various interest groups and media. Failing that, perhaps a WordPress site with multiple channels. But that idea makes me tired–been there, done that! I have found it almost impossible to lure people away from Facebook; they stay because that’s where everyone else is.


Just how much longer can Facebook last, though? An article in the New York Times (October 4, 2021) suggests that Facebook is experiencing ‘the kind of slow steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize.’ According to insiders, a ‘cloud of existential dread’ hangs over the company. What would we do if Facebook went away?


Once upon a time, if you craved social intercourse, you headed down to the local coffee shop or watering hole, and there you would find people to chat with. Often, talk would jump from table to table to include the whole room. Now, if you can even find a place open, people tend to circle in on their devices or their table companions. Is it just me, or are folk less social than they used to be now that they rely on ‘antisocial media’ to fill their need for connection?


When I spoke with Duncan about alternative venues for public conversation, he pointed out that many (if not most) who move to these islands do so because they are introverts who wish to be left alone, to tend their gardens and do their thing. And that is true (waves hand), but by and large we are a social species who crave embodied connection and a voice. The current state of social media only highlights the void where connection used to be. So many conversations on social media take the form of pointing out to our personal echo chambers how wrong ‘those other people’ are.


Gabor Maté points out that disconnection is the true cause of suffering and addiction. So, how can we grow a sense of connection in this age of masks and social distancing? Well, zoom meetings and gatherings offer us the ability to see each other’s faces and hear voices, which is better than text, but nothing can beat sitting together and sharing the same space. Here on Hornby, our coming Arts Centre may well be a game changer.


There is a magic in the connection between the living land and its people. I am excited about the new Centre–that it may be a home for the various arts, but also for folk to gather and share space, to think deep thoughts out loud in others’ presence, to ruminate, to fulminate, to express: creatively, emotively, visibly, audibly.


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