Kumbaya Redux

August 16th, 2011 by admin.

With economies crumbling, politicians posturing, nations in upheaval, and “Wizards of Waverly Place” canceled, one can’t be blamed for thinking humanity has lost its bearings, and all is lost. However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

After decades of conspicuous consumption, corporate and personal greed, and upended priorities, the double-dip depression (that’s what I’ve been calling it, and I’m sticking by it) is forcing many of us to review our lifestyles, and reconsider what is really important. Statistics suggest that the undeniable financial stresses of late are not increasing divorce rates, but rather reversing the trend (divorce rates are down year-on-year since 2008YE), and families are growing closer, with adults moving back in with parents, resulting in shared costs and shared burdens. The high cost of oil (regardless of recent gimmicky dips) is accelerating the drive toward alternative fuel vehicles (here’s hoping that we blast through the not-so-green hybrid and electric cars currently on offer, and really get it right with 2014 models). Citizens of cities around the world are increasingly clamoring for alternative modes of urban transportation (bicycle, pedestrian, public transport), leading to the exciting redesign of urban landscapes – incorporating  complete streets, more green spaces, pedestrian safety, increased access to local retail businesses, air quality improvements, mitigation of obesity rates, and reduction of urban heat island effects.  The process is slow, sometimes painfully so, but it is at least progressive, and I believe accelerated by the pressures brought to bear by our collective and individual financial woes.

The struggles faced by our society are reinvigorating our awareness of the communities within which we live, work, and play. More to the point, they are humanizing an existence that seemed to be losing itself in an entropic vortex of “technology for the sake of it”, rampant consumerism, and material one-upmanship. Individuals are becoming more aware of the truth of our shared reality. Nobody is in this alone, and this noble cliché seems to be reawakening an almost instinctual urge to share what little we have with those around us. The amount of dollars being given to charity may be down, but the number of people making donations  is up. This drive is manifesting itself in some wonderfully strange ways, a few cherry-picked examples offered her below, as evidence:

Airbnb is trying, with varying degrees of success, to connect private homeowners with regular travelers, for mutual benefit. Have an extra room (or whole residence) sitting empty at any particular time of the year? Offer it up for rental, and airbnb will help find a tenant.  As soon as the service manages to work out how to minimize vandalism and theft, and refine the availability calendaring (hopeless at present), it’s going to be fantastic.

Meanwhile, one wonders what the point of grassroots lodging is, if one doesn’t have a clue what to do in the city one is visiting. MyGuidie to the rescue! This service, still in alpha mode, is building a database of professional tour guides offering their professional services to travelers seeking to explore a destination properly. However, the real clincher about this site is the fact that it is ALSO registering volunteer locals willing to offer up a little guide time in return for a cold brew or friendly meal! Salacious potential aside, this is civic pride in action.

Don’t rely solely on your guide, however, when you consider that restaurants, museums, and many other places to see and be seen are actively pursuing ways to connect with their customers, fans, and clients. The obvious Foursquare and Facebook check-in mechanisms are but the proverbial tip of the iceberg, marking the spot in an ocean of opportunity. Underneath these well documented landmarks in communications and interconnectivity lie some very compelling niche programs worth checking out, such as – to give but one example among an increasing horde – the Connections program from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where staff are sharing their personal histories and perspectives on art, and overlaying these worldviews on the more specific  touchpoints offered in the museum’s collections.

While on the subject of taking people out to lunch, or visiting a place of interest, it’s intriguing to note that We&Co, a Foursquare outcrop app, is providing users the ability to leverage the increasingly ubiquitous “check-in” to recognize and thank the people who make a particular moment in our day a pleasant one, be it our waiter, retail clerk, dentist, or tour guide.

These are but a few of the apps, sites, and services cropping up (and growing fast) to accelerate this healthy compulsion many of us are experiencing: now that we have less money, perhaps we’ll focus a little less on building or buying more, and  instead take a little more time to show some interest in those things that truly make life worth living: the people and places that comprise our world. As my close personal friend, Henry David Thoreau, once said: What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Henry David Thoreau, in 1861.

Image via Wikipedia

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