So how do we build some real community?


It seems that our compulsive fixation on Social Software is rooted in a real lack of community in Real Life… Greg Hirsch

There is a lot of truth in this. New social media like Twitter and Facebook can connect us with people worldwide, yet it can mean spending our time in front of the computer rather than connecting with people face to face.

But what makes this so compelling? Part of the addictive nature of constant updates we get online is a bit like the orienting response to television. But more positively, I suspect that many of us feel a real connection to people online, and our regular suburban or urban lives are not all that connected.

On the other hand, we can use social software to connect in the real world. We can find like-minded people locally and on the other side of the planet that we would never have connected with in the past. I see this improving as the semantic web grows – it should be much easier to mark our profiles with our location and preferentially connect with people within a certain radius. Websites like Sydney Talks are a great indicator of the potential of this – but the real power of such features is yet to be seen, I’m sure.

We can also find fulfillment and connection online outside the sometimes inane chatterings of social media – for myself and quite several people I know, that’s helping to build a resource that makes a real difference in the world, such as Wikipedia or Appropedia. Though seeing how people are using microblogging ( or Twitter), I think wikis could benefit from better integrating social features. (It’s already possible to allow your MediaWiki site to display your Twitter feed, for example, and that’s enabled on Appropedia – but there is much more to do to make this smoother. We have a few ideas but need coders interested in working with us on this.)

And for all that MediaWiki is not designed for social networking, some of the coolest people I know, I’ve met in person through wikis: Wikipedia, Appropedia, and other wikis. Lonny, the founder of Appropedia, first contacted me and invited me to check out Appropedia by leaving a note on my Wikipedia talk page.

We can use our new, like-minded online friendships to do something in the real world. To be most effective, I suspect it’s best to connect with those who are already doing something. For that reason, I like Global Swadeshi as a social network – between them, these people are doing a lot of cool stuff. Some of us are talking about setting up an Appropriate technology village, somewhere such as the South of India, to do more work face-to-face.

My aim here is to start a conversation. Much more to write about the community in this era, about the creative real-world ways of acting for the community, such as co-housing and other intentional community forms. I also know this post could do with some editing. But excuse me if I post these initial thoughts in this rough form – I need to get away from the computer and meet people.

A nourishing and abundant future


The Transition Towns movement began in the UK and is spreading around the world – towns that collectively sign up to transition to a net-zero carbon economy.

One of the founders, Rob Hopkins, wrote The Transition Handbook, which is now being revamped for the second edition (and you can contribute – it’s a wiki!)

In the Introduction to The Transition Handbook,  writes:

Central to this book is the concept of resilience – familiar to ecologists, but less so to the rest of us. Resilience refers to the ability of a system, from individual people to whole economies, to hold together and maintain their ability to function in the face of change and shocks from the outside. This book, The Transition Handbook, argues that in our current (and long overdue) efforts to drastically cut carbon emissions, we must also give equal importance to the building, or more accurately to the rebuilding, of resilience. Indeed, I will argue that cutting emissions without resilience-building is ultimately futile. But what does resilience actually look like?

In 1990 I visited the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan, which until the opening of the Karakorum Highway in 1978 had been almost completely cut off from the outside world. When I visited I knew nothing about permaculture, of the concept of resilience, or even a great deal about food, farming or the environment, but I knew when I arrived that this was an extraordinary place.

I found a quote in a book which I read as I travelled up towards Hunza (I no longer remember the title): “If on Earth there is a garden of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this.” They were words that replayed in my head many times over my two weeks in Hunza. Here was a society which lived within its limits and had evolved a dazzlingly sophisticated yet simple way of doing so. All the waste, including human waste, was carefully composted and returned to the land. The terraces which had been built into the mountainsides over centuries were irrigated through a network of channels that brought mineral-rich water from the glacier above down to the fields with astonishing precision.

Apricot trees were everywhere, as well as cherry, apple, almond and other fruit and nut trees. Around and beneath the trees grew potatoes, barley, wheat and other vegetables. The fields were orderly but not regimented. Plants grew in small blocks, rather than in huge monocultures. Being on the side of a mountain, I invariably had to walk up and down hills a great deal, and soon began to feel some of the fitness for which the people of Hunza are famed. The paths were lined with dry stone walls, and were designed for people and animals, not for cars.

People always seemed to have time to stop and talk to each other and spend time with the children who ran barefoot and dusty through the fields. Apricots were harvested and spread out to dry on the rooftops of the houses, a dazzling sight in the bright mountain sun. Buildings were built from locally-made mud bricks, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And there was always the majestic splendour of the mountains towering above. Hunza is quite simply the most beautiful, tranquil, happy and abundant place I have ever visited, before or since.

(Read or edit the complete introduction…)

This is not a book about how dreadful the future could be; rather it is an invitation to join the increasingly whole people in hundreds of communities around the world who are taking the steps towards making a nourishing and abundant future a reality.
Rob Hopkins

Dartington, 2008

This extract and all Transition Handbook pages are released under GFDL and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike. By contributing to these pages you agree to release you work under these terms.

Be a Global Swadeshi


Swadeshi is a term popularized by Gandhi meaning self-sufficiency, and being mindful of what one consumes. Global Swadeshi, with the tagline, because one world is plenty, is a network of globally-minded people who believe in enabling self-sufficiency – being in a community producing what we need, rather than living beyond our means.

Not everyone at Global Swadeshi is a hardcore isolationist, with a “grow or make absolutely everything” philosophy. Vinay Gupta, the co-founder, relies heavily on the power of mass-production for his flat-pack refugee shelter, the Hexayurt. I’m a believer in trade (with provisos about the nature of the transport). But we can agree on self-sufficiency as the norm – being productive where we are – which means a resilient community, greater connectedness with others and with the earth that supports us. By nature it also means greater sustainability – not for the sake of a trend, but because it makes sense, and is the opposite of waste.

And among other things, Global Swadeshi is a meeting place for people interested in:

Just as Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement came at a moment of crisis – the oppression of India by another nation – and offered practical measures that ultimately worked, so Global Swadeshi comes when the human race as a whole is facing unprecedented challenges and is working on real solutions. No time for fluff and games – this is serious.

While so many are poor, we cannot say that we are a rich world. Rather, we are a world which has the capacity first to support everyone, and secondly to manifest the latent abundance of the world in ways which this generation cannot even dream of. – from the Global Swadeshi manifesto