The storm ahead and the importance of community

March 2020

Today is March 17th. We’re currently at the base of a deadly pandemic’s exponential curve and the start of an economic recession. Many problematic leaders (to put it very mildly) are at the helm of important countries and their response to this disaster has been inadequate to say the least. So yes, it’s pretty bad and it’s going to get worst. Like most, I feel powerless and it sucks.

As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, motion design, animation, editing, and coding, are some of the skills I can bring to the table to help the people around me on a professional level. It’s a small contribution, but it’s something I can do well.

But this post will not be about work. I want to talk about the importance of building and maintaining a community in these rocky times, and the complexity of doing so without being in the same room.

Let’s be honest here. Times are about to get tough. I’m not going to make predictions, but the maths tell us we’ll lose a lot of people.

This is why supporting each other in small community clusters, as we did in pre-pandemic face-to-face life, is going to be essential. I think we can all learn from community organizers and try to lead efforts to foster small online communities.

A little bit about me before I go forward with my suggestions on how to do this. I used to love Facebook. And MSN before that. I loved sharing stuff with friends and the feeling of community it created. But as time went on, Facebook became this weird blob of ads and uninteresting content that annoyed me. Also, I felt my relation with it shift. When I was posting something, I could feel my hunger for likes and the dopamine they’d bring. So, feeling like posting stuff would not bring me joy anymore, I got away from the feed and just left. I kept organizing events and messaging people I am personally close with, and focused on having fun and healthy face-to-face relationships. That’s how I became somewhat reclusive online and stayed the extrovert I am in the real life.

Also, although I mostly left for personal reasons, Facebook as a company had some very questionable behaviour which made me not want to come back. That being said, we’re not going to get into that now.

Nonetheless, I think Facebook is going to play an important role in this moment. Bad times require us to use the tools available and Facebook is a good one. Twitter has its importance as a way to spread information fast, but Facebook is better for smaller conversations. Also, in Quebec, Canada, Twitter is basically inexistent.

The key thing is to use Facebook the right way. People will often avoid posting on Facebook because there are too many people in the room. I’d never want to entertain a discussion with all of my classmates, colleagues, family members, and the random people I met on trips around the world, all simultaneously talking over each other and debating. Having a conversation with hundreds of people is just not realistic or pleasant.

Facebook’s best feature

So, the trick here, is events. Events are the only thing I still love about Facebook. Like small, temporary, private versions of Facebook that you can share with only the people you want to. More contained than posting publicly on your wall and more organized than just having a group messenger chat. So, that’s what we did with a bunch of friends. We created an event where we’ll support each other for the upcoming months. We’re around 30. My uneducated guess would be that be that the sweet spot is between 10 and 60. You can create as much as you want. One for family, one for friends, one for co-workers, etc.

It feels like the Facebook of 2008. When we could just hang out, post random stuff, ask for help, mess around and have a laugh. Having to self-isolate will be rough for many that aren’t accustomed to it. I’ve been working remote for more than 5 years and I know how to do it, but most of my friends don’t. The immediate thing we have to battle is, of course, the spread of the disease. The second issue will be the loneliness created by the first battle. This solution is not perfect, but it’s a good enough way to stay connected with your community.

Also this is a great place to organize things like smaller recurrent online events. In our event we’re currently discussing plans and making a calendar for a bunch of upcoming events. A camera party (we talk on video while drinking in our respective apartments), a live movie watching party where we stream the same movie at the same time and discuss it, online poker games, etc.

Here are some technical tools that can help you reduce the distance between you and this community you’ll foster:

  1. Create one of many Facebook events in which you’ll build your community.
  2. Use the function “Message guest” to create a video conversation in Facebook messenger, or use Google hangouts or Jit.si, and have a remote get together. Have a drink and talk as you would in a party.
  3. Use Chess.com, Poker Stars or kosmi.io, to organise live Chess/Poker/NES games. If you and some of your friends have a video game you play, tell the others and invite them into the group.
  4. Use Netflix Party or kosmi.io to stream the same movie together. Watching a movie alone and watching it with people is completely different.
  5. And finally, of course, share and write stuff in there. Try to nodge things towards the positive and constructive side of things. Don’t let this become just another wall of horrors as the news are. But allow people to ask for help and be vulnerable if they need it.

Again, this is going to get a lot worst before it gets better. But we can make this less scary. We all just want to be closer and we can’t, so this is a way. If you can operate a computer well, be the captain of this ship. Be the leader you wished you had.

Stay safe and stay strong. You can do this. We can do this. Let’s all be cool to each other and get on the other side stronger. 👊