It can be tough to write about Montgomery because our current world encourages us to hide in shells crafted by globalization. Local quirks are being slowly smoothed out into a series of memes shared between you and the people of every other city.
Our local festivals and traditions are being kept afloat by pre-Internet generations, those who haven’t fled for larger regional centers. Our disposable income is being spent on isolating video games and isolating marathons of binge watching television shows. That’s not a slam against “House of Cards,” which we hear is quite good, but it’s a recognition that there’s quite a lot to Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” thesis.
If you’re not familiar, Putnam uses the decline of public bowling leagues as a lens through which to examine the death of civic life. With a decline in shared public spaces, democracy suffers. People don’t know their neighbors, live in silos, etc.
Montgomery already had a lot of that going on due to the whole racism thing. We didn’t need a decline in bowling leagues (or public swimming pools) to suggest that people were self-segregating in our community. We also are a city that has struggled to support music venues and restaurants and parks and many of the other places where people mix and mingle. Our shared sense of community can too often be reduced to political complaining — and that in turn encourages folks to just stay home at night. When we stay at home with the television (or Internet), the problem gets worse.
Our talking points naturally evolve and become less local. We say less about Shashy’s or Capitol Book and News, and mostly talk about whatever media products we are passively consuming. Enough has already been said about how Amazon and Ebay (not to mention soulless chain stores) undercut local businesses.
But what’s so great about the local anyway? Aren’t we all just digital natives that transcend petty borders and outdated tribal identities?
I’m not sure. But I do know that we all suffer when the public sphere is abandoned by the public. And although I can go from breakfast until bedtime without doing anything “authentically Montgomery” these days, I know that the burden is on me to engage. Left alone, I could well drift into isolation: pets, favorite shows, work, digital space.
I’m going to work on being a better citizen, embracing unique elements of local identity, improving my community, and emerging from the protective armor of globalization. Part of that means kicking this blog back into a higher gear. I was recently encouraged by a compliment from a friend (who I didn’t know even read this blog) and am inspired and humbled that our writing is appreciated. Being resolved and following through is the only thing I can do.