As I’ve grown into my own and my daily interactions have been tapered by convenience and algorithms, how I’ve understood community has changed. At this point in my life, I think of it less as a system of intimate relationships and more as a map of places, faces, and things that provide environmental stability while I’m in transit. I don’t really view my most cherished relationships as part of my community anymore, they’re a part of me; my community, as I see it now, is what supports me between home and everywhere else: my specific rotation of tunes in my car (always either Beyoncé, Kanye, T-Swift, Kendrick, or DJ Rashad), Mari with an “I” at my favorite grocery store who once paid for my lunch when my debit card was declined, my neighbor who is a retired school teacher and gives me copious handfuls of dinner mints for carrying her groceries.
My loved ones (present and absent) get me up each morning, but it’s my community (my morning audio #squad, anyone I’ve ever bought a bottle of fizzy water from, every familiar face I’ve nodded at between my car and my apartment door) that gets me through. It’s during these kinds of banal transactions when I reflect most upon my role in my community. Whenever I’m pumping gas at that BP station ostensibly only staffed by a perpetually sincere Indian woman and a proud hippy dude, or whenever 80-year-old Ron who drives my students home after school parks his bus in front of my car and laughs at how I still sport Minnesota plates in Wisconsin, I think about what I mean — if anything — to these people who don’t really know me, but who spend a fair amount of time in my life. What makes up their communities? Who matters in their lives? What changes for them when they move around or when things move around them? What stays? With these questions on my mind, I extend my thinking outward, into my various communities, focusing all of my wonderings into one question:
What does Community mean to you?
“It’s interesting for me to reflect on the fact that ‘community’ is commonly used to connote people who lived around you (‘These are the people in your neighborhood’), but the material and economic realities of the 21st century have rendered community de-localized and more utilitarian. I work remotely for a large multinational company, teach online for a university, and my family moves frequently from place to place, so my communities are highly decentralized and more centered around work, or in the case of TMT, common interests or pursuits, than geographical collocation. I’ve started to reclaim a little of that old sense of community since we moved to our current neighborhood and I’ve gotten a chance to know some of my neighbors and business-owners nearby.”
– Joe Hemmerling
“For most of my life, I perceived ‘community’ to be those who lived near and around me. The importance of such a community is that we share a mutual interest in our common good. Community would not only include those on my block but the city in which I lived, the county in which I paid taxes, etc. This kind of community is defined mostly by proximity. In a community of proximity, we don’t necessarily choose the other community members.”
– Steve Scott
“Community means a sense of acceptance. A group of people who support each other through the tough times, and celebrate one another during their triumphs. Put simply, community is family.”
– Kara Schnier
“Community is a shared notion of space and cultural awareness, with obvious nuances on the individual level. That awareness can be arbitrary and constructed as well – i.e., nationalism. But in a more realistic sense, it’s those shared spaces where we interact. Like a message board. There’s a shared bond facilitated by that format, fueled maybe by interest or a shared experience. But there’s going to be obvious nuances; someone is going to remember that experience differently, or someone’s taste will be different from another’s. Yet, there’s still a sense of community strung together by that experience or interest, brought together within that arbitrary space.”
– Michael Frett
“For the life of me, I can’t think of a definition of ‘community’ that holds water. Outside of the dictionary definition, of course, but that’s so boring; it doesn’t get at the heart of the matter. So many things can constitute a community – a town, a message board, a campfire in the Finnish woods, a squatter’s recess – that the grounds of definition slip out from under you… though if I had to wager, I’d bet all communities are atomic, bound only by the pull of their members.”
– Sean Reichard
“Community is the revealing and embracing of the intimate connections with those around us. The feeling of love for others. The belief that we are in this together.”
– Seth Rauman
“community is a praxis
community is of the subjunctive mood
community is a temporary autonomous zone
community is technological
community is an archipelago
community is anti
community is sympoetic”
– Harry Gilbert
“Another kind of community is that formed by affinity, rather than proximity. This might be a group of people who share a common interest (music, sports), an alma mater, a vocation, etc. The appeal of such a community is that we inherently share at least one attribute or interest in common. That can foster collaboration, creativity, and affirmation. However, such communities may exclude others who do not share common interests. This may limit the community’s diversity, at best, or devalue others, at worst. Communities of proximity and communities of affinity are both essential. We are in the midst of a tidal wave of technological change that has seemingly diminished the former in favor of the latter. “
– Steve Scott
“I think of a community as a group of people. What brings or keeps them together can be just about anything. I feel like the word generally has a positive connotation, whether or not they always are.”
– Ian Neal
Through examining my own web’s connections, it’s become clear that no matter how much I frame community as this single convergence of strands, it doesn’t end with me or with Mari with an “I” or with 80-year old Ron or with any of these people; it keeps going, through space and through time. Its meaning is malleable, shaped by circumstance and reflection. As our world changes, our own conceptions of our roles change and those arenas in which we reflect upon our roles take on different forms. What, then, is essential for a community?
José Perez, Graham Lambkin’s downstairs neighbor during Community’s recording, cryptically offers his own reflection on community’s role itself in our lives: “Community is both willing servant and social mirror — it performs its basic civic duty without fuss, then shatters.”
It is evident that many people for whom community is worth reflection conceptualize it as a group of people existing together. Whether we choose our communities or whether we find ourselves entangled within them or excluded from them or suspended between them, community is that free-flowing fabric that stretches between each of us, warping and stretching as we move. Perhaps, at its core, it’s simply this sense of inevitable, elemental connectivity that makes community such a fascinating and sprawling subject.
Graham Lambkin’s Community sits among these reflections as a document of what a community can create without dictating what a community should entail; it is evidence without the arrogance of conclusion. Its import is one that doesn’t shatter when our communities do. Its specificities are inclusive of its outgrowths. Its value as a product of a particular community of artists is as indispensable as its creators’ roles within their own communities. It performs its basic civic duty without fuss, but what it shatters is that sense of obligatory disconnect from our surroundings. Community isn’t an antidote for disillusionment nor is it a blueprint for building a community, but like Kid A before it, it is a window through which light shines absent its carpenters, illuminating our works and our meditations as nodes within a larger network.