Thursday, September 3, 2009

The End of 'Us'; Society's Failing Social Cohesion

Reading The Globe and Mail last Saturday I came across an excellent essay by Michael Valpy. Titled, 'Is this the end of the age of our social cohesion?' Mr. Valpy theorizes that the metaphorical 'glue' holding Canadians together is falling apart. According to Mr. Valpy, our sense, "of common purpose and belonging together is disintegrating."

It's a pretty simple thesis really. And the evidence is all around us.

No longer do we read the same information. Traditional media outlets - newspapers, television stations and radio, are being picked away at by specialized online media and blogs (not mine, you understand, but all those other blogs) As clever entrepreneurs figure out new ways to generate profit from the Internet, advertising money, the lifeblood of media that rely on the old model of doing business, is drying up.

As one academic points out in the Globe essay, in the past reading a newspaper was similar to attending mass at Church. Everyone reading The Globe and Mail on a Saturday gets the same information as anyone else who reads that day's edition of the paper. Doing this gives people something in common, and also provides excellent kindling for conversation. (Sample pick up line to a stranger: "Did you see the story about Michael Ignatieff's election platform for the Liberals in today's Globe?")

But that's changing today, and several traditional media outlets — and I'm looking at The National Post specifically here, are on the verge of shutting their doors. The Post stopped publishing for one day a week over the summer. Imagine, a national paper that's forced to cut costs so drastically they decide to cancel a full day of coverage. If we lose these outlets, we lose something we have in common (at least, those of us who read the papers)

And it's not just the media landscape that's changing, although this situation is definitely a high point of interest for me. The way people socialize is also undergoing a dramatic shift.

Some anecdotal evidence: When I go out on a Friday or Saturday night, the bars seem less crowded, ditto the streets. True, this could be due to any number of factors. Mass acute alcohol poisonings, long weekends (such as the Labour Day weekend that's right around the next bend) or bad weather.

But last time I checked, it's still summer in Toronto and the weather (for once) is as good as it's going to get this season. Putting on my amateur sociologist hat, I think the change is because more people are drinking at home plus the people going to bars to pick up are looking after those needs online. I'd like to conduct some actual scientific research to find out how many people who cruise online (gay and straight) end the night with bloodshot eyes and a sticky keyboard instead of another warm body to curl up to in bed.

I think David Bowie's excellent song 'Fall Dog Bombs the Moon' from his 2003 album Reality comes the closest to capturing the spirit of our times. The album version is quite good, but I find this live version recorded in France much better. I consider David Bowie the final word when it comes to artistic expression of feelings of alienation and isolation.

BTW: If you're reading this David, please put out another album.

One last thing I want to mention in this entry. Monday, August 31, 2009, marked the last day Pages bookstore on Queen West was open. At the end of last Monday, this much loved and respected independent bookstore shut its' doors for good. You can read BlogTO's article on Pages' last day here.

I admit that I didn't buy much from Pages over the years, as most of my scarce extra spending has gone to Glad Day Bookshop (598A Yonge St.), which is hosting the next edition of its' Proust & Company reading series on Saturday, Sept. 12 from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m. (wink wink, nudge nudge) Fab magazine's Paul Bellini will be one of the readers at the coming event — not to be missed.

But I loved Pages because I think all independent bookstores provide value added and then some to the neighbourhoods they occupy. They're not just stores people, they are cultural hubs that have been nourished by strong individuals with years of experience who love books and knowledge as much (and sometimes more) than they enjoy turning a profit.

For anybody who wants to say goodbye to Pages, on Sept. 8 there will be a celebration called, suitably enough, Afterword at The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West)
from 7:00 p.m. onward. And it's free.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think social cohesion will ever come to an end. Call me an optimist, but I still see many examples of thriving communities.

    I will endeavour to be at your gathering on Saturday September 12. Up until now, my knowledge of Paul Bellini has been limited to the "Touch Paul Bellini" and "Bellini Day" sketches on Kids In The Hall.