The New York Times recently posted an article on how two Bologna residents strengthened their community ‘first offline, then off’. Laurell Boyers and her husband Federico Bastiani reside in Bologna on Via Fondazza, where they created a closed Facebook group for people who live there, and they spread the word through flyers. Two years later the group has about 1100 members. Now residents more openly greet each other, they speak to one another, are interested in each other’s lives, and most important, they feel like they belong.
What I was struck by most was not the fact that social media was used to create a stronger sense of community, but rather – as I have experienced myself – that relationality is the spinning centre of Italian culture. And it is just this that makes them so easily approachable; always willing to assist where needed, and always concerned with the happiness of others. Within my first two weeks of living in Florence, Italy, it is just this that generated an overwhelming sense of belonging – almost two years along the line I still feel like I belong. Unlike to the most of the world (or at least the bits I have experienced), a sense of density and interdependence of human life is not lost on Italians. It is therefore a culture receptive to online ‘relationships’ facilitating offline one’s, rather than allowing it to negate them, which is, more often than not, the case. To quote Edward Said:
“Humanism is the only, and, I would go as far as saying, the final, resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history. We are today abetted by the enormously encouraging democratic field of cyberspace, open to all users in ways undreamed of by earlier generations either of tyrants or of orthodoxies (Orientalism, 1977).”
It seems like the Italians got it right!