In of one of my favorite scenes from one my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) has been repeatedly exclaiming: “Inconceivable!” Finally Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) responds:
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
I’ve already riffed on that classic bit in the titles of two other items. Now I’m compelled to do it again because when I talk about events, vis-a-vis the elmcity project, I think the word means something different from you probably think it means.
Here’s one common meaning: major public events. These include things like artistic performances, festivals, fairs, and sporting events. They dominate the “Things to See and Do” section of every newspaper and online community guide, and are usually well publicized.
Here’s another common meaning: minor events that are often (but not aways) private. These include birthday parties, house concerts, and outdoor excursions. They are, nowadays, often publicized very well in Facebook.
Although I’m happy to see major public events showing up in an elmcity hub, that isn’t my main goal. And private events, of course, don’t belong in an elmcity hub, they belong in Facebook, or in other private networks.
There’s a third kind of event that interests me most of all. It occupies a space between the other two. It’s public, but minor: a book discussion, a roadside cleanup, a support group, a squaredance. These events typically don’t show up in “Things To See And Do” guides because they’re considered too niche, and because it’s too much work — for both the publisher and the contributor — to get them included. They might show up in Facebook, but if so they will be visible there only within a closed social network.
There are tons of events in this minor-but-public category. Here’s one of my favorite examples. We were having dinner with our friends Lin and Tom recently, and Lin mentioned that Tom had just won the New Hampshire state archery tournament.
Me: “Really? Congratulations! Where was that held?”
Lin: “At the Keene Recreation Center, last Saturday.”
The Rec Center is a ten-minute walk from my house. I’d have loved to have seen those precision archers ply their trade. And it was open to the public. Anybody could have gone. But nobody knew.
Everyone I talk to has similar stories. Everyone says they find out about such things — if they find out at all — only after the fact. Everyone acknowledges that there should be a better way to inform one another about the goings-on that implicitly form much of the social capital of the community. If we can make more of it explicit, we will lead richer lives. And here I mean richer in two senses of that word. There’s the Robert Putnam sense of social well-being. And there’s the Richard Florida sense of economic well-being. If we can make more of our implicit social capital explicit, we’ll profit in both ways.