Community – Are We Losing Out? #67 #cong19


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About Aileen Howell:

Aileen describes herself as a mum of 4, a dedicated Geek girl, a Breastfeeding Advocate, an Aspie & ADHD mum, and a Maker of Things.

Aileen was the founder and managing director of, Ireland’s first exclusively online maternity wear start-up. Before her start-up days, she was a software engineer working in the finance sector. These days she is a director with a uniform (school & industry) supplier and a full time La Leche League Leader – a voluntary position in the area of mother-to-mother breastfeeding support.

Contacting Aileen Howell:

You can follow Aileen on Twitter or send her an email.

By Aileen Howell

As the world changes, the definition of community is changing. It used to be a physical location but now it is becoming more nebulous and abstract. Far more people will now seek to find their “community” online with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc all providing the means. However, does this shift online mean we are missing out on the benefits of community in a tangible, physical sense.

Community in the traditional sense was very much location based. Ask someone to tell you about their local community and they will probably quickly paint a picture of the area they lived in and the people who lived there. They will quite possibly mention the local GAA team which, in rural Ireland, was and still is generally the beating heart of most communities. The word community creates an immediate feeling of well-being, there’s a warmth to the idea of community that wraps you up in it. If you grew up in the same community as someone else you probably went to the same school, played on the same roads, prayed at the same church. Being part of a community was a shared sense of belonging – of knowing where you stood in the world based on those around you. Community was a shared outlook, a sense of being secure and knowing that those around you probably shared similar life experiences, backgrounds, views.

In the past people lived their whole lives in their local community – work, social, sports etc. As the world grows smaller that same structure and predictability can seem stifling and restrictive. We no longer meet at Mass on a Sunday or head to the local for a pint on Saturday night. We push against those boundaries looking for more and seeking out those who we feel more connected with, not based on geography but based on life views.

With the birth of the internet, and specifically chat rooms/bulletin boards/social media, community has come to mean so much more and at the same time often so much less. Now you will hear people talking about “finding their tribe”, online communities and it’s not unusual to have friends – even close ones – that you’ve never actually physically met. As people spend more time commuting to work and less time in their homes, the online community has come to supersede the physical one and people are more likely to reach out to these communities for social interaction.

While it’s fantastic that people are able to find support, friendship and build relationships online, has the growth in the online world been at a cost to the physical one? While online connections are fantastic and an important outlet for many – can they replace the traditional community? Is there any need to preserve the traditional community?

I used to feel that the traditional community had passed it’s sell by date. That in the modern age we were free to choose our own communities based on shared values and ideal. That we could just seek out those who felt as we do and forge our friendships there.  However – while these online communities can and do serve an important function these lack in some very fundamental ways.

The smallest of things can be the most important – a handshake outside the local shop, a chat at the post office or a spontaneous cuppa when you run into a friend in the street. These small human interactions have so much to offer both parties and we need to be careful not to forget that. I’ve also come to realise that a single shared passion/experience or belief is not enough ground to build a strong community. The wonderful diversity which opens us up to so many ideas can also be overwhelming and alien. There is something comforting about having a conversation with someone from your physical community – there’s a shared culture and experience that allows the ebb and flow of a conversation to happen with the need for clarifications or the misunderstandings which will happen so frequently online due to the vastly different world experiences of those you  are chatting to.  Lets not throw the baby out with the bath water, lets hold on to the best of both and continue forging new communities online while holding fast to the living, breathing community right outside our doors.


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