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The Big Answer

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Neighborhood Salons

an article by Utne Reader, ed.

(our site's article review)

Utne magazine is encouraging neighborhood salons to meet and discuss things that interest them. This is good for neighborhoods, for community and for democracy. It’s good for social connectedness, the key solution to many social problems. But could it be a reductionistic part of a much bigger social need? Is conversation enough? Could superficial social connectedness end up as an escape rather than a lifestyle enrichment? But there is no law that neighborhood salon chatter needs to be superficial.

Almost all of the conversation online is superficial social connectedness, especially social networks like Facebook. See Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? and Social Networking and PSBs in MCs and The Challenge of Making Friends as an Adult, Generation Text and Me, MySpace, and I. The latter, about MySpace, is from 2007, before Facebook use skyrocketed.

Cyberspace—the new communication medium
Cyberspace—the new communication medium

We didn’t know if people would decide back in 1995, when this Utne Reader article came out, that online salon participation was more convenient and attractive—it was too early to tell. One weakness in getting all the Utne readers who want to talk together, in a specific locale, is that salon aspirants can pursue a much bigger selection of people who more closely share similar interests (and who needn’t read any specific magazine) if they use online meeting and chatting via virtual community. But people in the same room can potentially have more complete conversations, communications and intimacy than can their virtual counterparts.

Shall We Salon . . . Again?. In 1995, when the fledgling World Wide Web had transformed the Internet from academic curiosity into mass medium, we decided to explore the potential of online salons with Café Utne. Billed as "a place in cyberspace where ideas and community intersect," the café was one of the first free virtual communities, and it quickly developed a reputation for thoughtfulness and depth. From 1995 to 2002, more than 125,000 people had registered for membership.

Many of us are not groupish or collective enough to be attracted to groups of people who “simply want to converse.” (I.e., get a life.) But thousands of Utne readers are, both online and offline. More power to them. As mentioned, irl and f2f salons can be good for neighborhoods, for community and for democracy. All salons can be good for social connectedness, the key solution to many social problems. They can also be a lot of B.S.—literally—no better than party chatter. Choose which, folks.

Indulging in party chatter is an abhorent idea to millions of us—especially introverts
Indulging in party chatter is an abhorent idea to millions of us—especially introverts