I grew up in the suburbs of York County. While I was active in my school, church, and local community, the truth is I didn’t really like where I lived. I saw my high school pour money into athletic programs at the same time as it cut the arts budget. Some of my friends were suspended from school for wearing buttons with anti-swastika “end hate” buttons (because they had a swastika on them) while many of our classmates wore confederate flag belt buckles and T-shirts without reprisal. A middle-American blend of Evangelicalism and political conservatism dominated the culture.
I went to college on Philadelphia’s Main Line, in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the country. The over-affluent lifestyle (David Brooks has characterized it as the “bohemian bourgeoisie in paradise”) never resonated with me. While I struggled to understand it rather than judge it in a knee-jerk way, I never felt like I could fit in with that community.
Most recently, I lived in New York City. There is a lot to love about that metropolis (“city” doesn’t quite fit the bill, in my view), but it has a culture that rewards self-centeredness and pretentiousness, particularly the most subtle kinds that appear on the surface to be altruism and authenticity. Plus, it’s an expensive place to live, which means that at every turn you need to pay to play.
Online social networking has allowed me to meet lots of people I may never have met otherwise. Anne Kirby constantly encourages her clients to “take it full circle”–to use a broad set of online tools to deepen relationships with people you’ve met in person, and to find opportunities to meet online acquaintances face-to-face. I wouldn’t have met Anne if not for MySpace, where I came across a newly-formed group called the Creative House of Lancaster.
I personally have been very encouraged by David Moulton and Brent Colflesh, two very funny and very intelligent guys I first met through Twitter, who have told me that they know a lot more about what’s going on in Lancaster and what matters to the community because of me and my use of social media.
I think the greatest way that social media increases involvement is that it lowers the barriers to entry and decreases the unknown. Young professionals groups, for instance, run the gamut from too informal to matter, to highly exclusive. My social networks allowed me to find out the real scoop on Lancaster Young Professionals, so that I felt much more comfortable going to a meeting and was much more excited about it than I otherwise would have. Online social networking is also what enabled me to connect with Matt Holden, the 25-year-old who is the only Republican running for Lancaster City Council this year. Now, in turn, I’ll be using those social networks to help people get to know him better and to carry out the work of the Democrats for Matt Holden committee that I’ve been asked to chair.