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So, there's a machine.

If you start it up, it will give you every book in the world every movie and TV series ever made and every music album ever recorded and every science paper ever published. It will find your lost high school friends and help you make wonderful new ones. You can watch astronauts dance in space, sit at a table with journalists and scientists.

There's a catch, though. It will also kill small towns, destroy the middle class and elect a fascist President.

Do you turn it on?

@natecull is there a value in small towns? they were imploding long before the internet.

@pnathan @natecull one sec, i'll ask my whole extended family and a few dozen of my friends if the entire pattern of their lives contains any value and get back to you.

@brennen @natecull sure, ask them about the growth and success of small town life over the past 150 years. Most small towns have not flourished at all....

The 1900s have encompassed the collapse of small towns as the economy has shifted away from resource production to resource recombining and derivatives from there.

My first 7 years were spent in towns < 100 people, then I lived for 10 years next to a town with 5000 people... in Idaho.

Things aren't getting better in general.

@natecull @brennen what value is there in pursuing a life where everyone nearby is confronting the slow moving collapse of their economy, and then the society as people turn to drugs? what "value" is there in pursuing a world which is fading out as the work is gone and opioids are rampantly growing?

Seems like a pretty hopeless place unless you're independently wealthy or are very comfortable living on your own and working up ways of survival that don't involve interaction with your society.

@brennen @natecull I don't mean economic value (but we derive our self-worth in part from that). I mean the eudemonic life....

@miwilc I strongly question the received wisdom of the virtue and improved eudamonia of small towns.

@pnathan @miwilc btw, the reason I posed my toot as a question/dilemma is that I don't think it's at all a clear-cut issue.

Yes, small towns have been dying before the Internet due to commercial economies of scale. What's disappointed me so much about the Internet in the last 10 years is realising that it (most particularly online shopping) has *accelerated* that process rather than slowed it.

But... the Internet's also made small-town or small-country life livable in many new ways.

@natecull @miwilc @pnathan I think sometimes about how my family, living in an unincorporated area, basically now uses the internet to simulate city life with a nicer view. The town nearby is now for recreation, much like how horses became a hobby once we no longer needed them. The residents who still don't use the internet must find it all very strange.

@pmosetc @pnathan @miwilc @natecull I’ve never experienced anything on the Internet like the sociality you get on a city street.

@wrenpile @miwilc @pnathan @pmosetc I was very much impressed by, I think, Roberrt D Putnam's argument ( that we're losing shared social space (if not Putnam then someone similar in the early 2000s)

which led me around 2003 to get involved a neighbourhood group, and then a local church, and well, it worked for me because I met my wife there

but it's very hard to consciously create shared social space when economic forces are pushing back harder to monetise and centralise

@pmosetc @pnathan @miwilc @wrenpile I forget the actual writer - they used the term 'front porch space' I think to talk about mixed private-public spaces.

The rise of the Internet has given us back something *like* that, which the rise of mass media took away... but I fear the later rise of algorithmically curated, centralised social media is clawing back even this ersatz 'public street' we've got

@natecull @miwilc @pnathan @pmosetc It isn’t just that social media — decentralized ones, too — tend to sort people into separate groups. A crowded city street offers you unmediated exchange with — you never know who, not to mention when. It’s a totally different environment from that glowing screen.

@wrenpile @pmosetc @miwilc @natecull quite correct, Lew. It's one of the hallmarks of urban life and I would argue is a platonic good for a society. Mashing everyone together produces vast amounts of interactions, which yields new art, new businesses, new ideas, new friends. Tolerance and diversity become, eventually, inherent characteristics of a free city.

It's small towns which are famous for .... none of the above.

@natecull @miwilc @pmosetc @wrenpile Circling around to Nate's original point: small towns being fed talk radio, Fox, and Facebook memes gave us a fascist President, because they had never met anyone different but were told to fear it. There are people in Idaho who have never left it, or talked to a Muslim in their life. Yet they believe what Fox says about Muslims.

Again: what value small towns?

@pnathan @wrenpile @pmosetc @miwilc I agree that small towns as they currently are have deep problems. But I'm not sure those problems come from decentralisation rather than from *centralised* near monopoly control over media (Fox, Clear Channel, cable internet), retail (Wal-Mart, Amazon)... the thriving local main streets weren't killed by small-town parochialism but by big business deliberately extracting profit. Imo.

Nate Cull

@miwilc @pmosetc @wrenpile @pnathan I live in NZ, a country total population 3-4 million, making us essentially just a medium size city. Our small towns are *really* small and are dying too, mostly because the jobs aren't there. So people flow to our bigger cities (eg Auckland, ~1.5 million) and this is *massively* spiking the cost of housing - AKL is now *less affordable than London* vs NZ median wage.

I find this pretty scary.

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@pnathan @wrenpile @pmosetc @miwilc Conversely, I understand the isolation small and even medium towns cause. The Internet has been an lifesaver for me. But... getting involved in a local neighborhood group has also been important.

I'd like to somehow combine the 'you can learn about anything' of the Net with '..and here are the real people living near you' of neighborhood life. It's hard, though - people often *do not want* to know their neighbours. Actively distrust and fear them, in fact.

@natecull @miwilc @pmosetc @wrenpile nextdoor did that and became quickly a legendary sink of racism . Haven't followed up on its story lately. When I was on it, it was super "did you see the black guy in the hoodie? Get your surveillance out folks!!!"

@pnathan @wrenpile @pmosetc @miwilc ugh that's terrible :((

and yeah maybe Neighbourhood Watch groups in NZ aren't as overtly racist but the focus on CRIMEZ! CRIMEZZ! WHO IS DOIN THE ROBBING IN UR STREETZ makes them a lot less useful for building healthy, trusting, sharing community than you might think

@miwilc @pmosetc @wrenpile @pnathan for me the answer actually was a church

but we're kind of an unusual church in that we have a lot of neighbourhood involvement and hospitality and I've been in many churches that don't have that and didn't help me at all

also the hospitality is powered by retired pre-Boomer people and a new generation isn't really coming along. Us Gen-Xs aren't filling the gaps. I'm involved but sure don't want to be a priest. It's hard to see a way forward.

@pnathan @natecull
Ugh. I've heard terrible things about Nextdoor. But the neighborhood group on Facebook is also a vile pit of racism and paranoia. And the police encourage that atmosphere and get plenty of appreciative boot-licks.