Sunday, March 20, 2011

Facebook versus face to face community

A recent article in New York Times described how online social networks have surged in popularity with gay men and lesbians, while many social groups have been in decline. The article described bear clubs and other connections that are dwindling as people stay home and do social networking on line.

Interesting perspective, but I would say the dynamic is different in large cities like New York versus small communitys like Bellingham. There wasn't much in the way of gay clubs in Bellingham even before the internet. It could be that cyberspace has actually enhanced the face to face gatherings of the real world in small communities.

Before internet days, there wasn't much in the way of inexpensive methods to get the word out. Big cities had large organizations like, for instance the Seattle Men's Chorus. They could afford a visible presence with advertising in major media, office space and mailing lists. SMC even puts out its own glossy magazine supported by paid advertising; Flying House Magazine. In Bellingham, we now have The Betty Pages, but that's only been in the last 6 years.

Cover for a recent Flying House that I get for free

What have we had in Bellingham before the internet? A campus organization at Western Washington University with office space, discussion groups and a newsletter. I tend to forget that we did have a gay bar back then which started in the mid 1970s. Other smaller communities didn't even have that. People have found memories of the bar, but I remember not going often due to the cigarette smoke that was still legal in Washington bars of those days.

For community and political organizations, there were things like Hands Off Washington that came and went when initiatives were on the ballot. Also some other things, but the number of small groups really picked up when email started. A more affordable way to get the word out will make more of a positive difference in small communities where groups are too small to afford other kinds of publicity. This dynamic may be a lot different in large cities where organizations could thrive and actually have fairly sizable budgets for mailings, advertising and meeting spaces.

Another factor that may be leading to decline of traditional gay organizations in places like New York and San Francisco is the high cost of living in those cities. In the past, it used to be that gay people would gravitate toward cities to find more community. Now days, the cities tend to just draw people who can afford to live there, regardless of other factors such as the need for being among others of a minority culture.

Among several on-line resources in Bellingham is my own Newsletter and resource guide

Other resources include Skagit PFLAG.

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