Virtual communities cannot replace the real ones

This past weekend, Colborne celebrated its 150th anniversary with a series of events and school reunions that brought back many memories for village residents.  Among the period costumes, vintage cars, great food and festivities, were the strong emotions of fellowship and community pride that were hard to miss.

The village of Colborne was incorporated on Jan. 1, 1859 within the township of Cramahe with an original population of 1,104. The first known settler was Joseph Keeler, who came from Rutland, Vermont in 1789. Within very little time, forty settlers joined Keeler and soon a sawmill, flour mill, carding and woolen mill were part of the settlement.

The Keeler family would continue to be influential. Keeler’s son, Joseph A., founded the village. He was a merchant, postmaster, and Justice of the Peace. The grandson of the original Joseph Keeler would go on to have a distinguished life as a politician, establishing the first newspaper and printing office, as well as serving as a major in the local militia.

Certainly, there were other families that contributed to the growth of the village. Names like Richardson, Scripture, Beattie, Cooper, Bristol, Crandell, Edwards, Palmer and more made their mark.

While there is so much rich history to celebrate, it was the gathering of local residents, families and friends that was so impressive. It was particularly striking to see the old and the new mixing. One small girl caught the spirit of the day, dressed in a long historic frock and apron wearing a pair of Crocs.

To celebrate history brings a community together in a unique way by strengthening our sense of collectivity and sense of belonging.

Yet, modern technology brings people together in so many different ways. The virtual world rubs against the physical one. With social media creating online relationships that make it easy to connect with friends, family and others instantly, it has never been so easy to stay in touch.

For some, the virtual world of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and blogs represents a global conversation where people are free to connect with like-minded people on a host of topics.

We are no longer alone. Think of high school days many years ago, before this technological revolution, when it was a massive sin to be different. Peer pressure either drove one to become part of an undesirable clique or be banished to isolation with few or no friends.

Social media allows us to connect to an endless collection of networks for everything from punk bands that play Croatian folk songs to model train lovers who take pictures of engines to share worldwide.

Still, can virtual space replace physical space? In other words, will the residents of Colborne come together to celebrate the 175th anniversary in 25 years?

Let’s hope the answer is, yes.  We can hope the town square will be packed once more and the gazebo will be centre stage for many activities. But, we may also see another community gathering – one that is online – sharing the celebration and extending the feeling of belonging well beyond the limits of geography.

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