“What was it about that night? Connection in an isolating age.” So go the lyrics of one of the songs from Rent, referencing the way people at the end of the 20th century seemed to be disconnecting from human contact. With the internet as a safe buffer between them, it sometimes seems like people will never talk if they can text. Why meet with someone when you can Skype then, or just talk via Facebook?
Well, as a remedy for all that isolation, there are a lot of projects of late that seem to be geared towards the opposite. Some of them use the internet, at least peripherally, but they all find ways to spread a little contact, to bring people together, or to induce people to show a random act of kindness.
Here, then, are some fun projects and websites that’re remedies for an age that seemed doomed to isolate us further and further from each other.
Books Running Wild!
I first became aware of Bookcrossing.com back in 2004, and I’ve enjoyed it off and on. I’d sort of lost track of it as a concept, but some recent emails letting me know about books in my area has rekindled my interest.
A major aspect of Bookcrossing is giving away books with no expectation of return. If you’re like me, someone who ends up with books sort of dropped in his lap by family and friends and dwindling library space, this can be a great thing. The flip side of it is hunting for books, which can also be very fun, especially when a book you really want goes wild in your area.
Here’s how it works. A prospective book-releaser registers a book through Bookcrossing.com and affixes a label in the book with a unique serial code. They then find a place to leave the book, preferably someplace where others can find it, and make notes on the book’s online profile to reveal details of its release in the wild. Hunters can then look at what books have been released in their vicinity and try to catch them. Or random people may happen upon them and become involved thusly. From then on, a book’s online profile can show where the book is going or has been, as long as people continue to chronicle their journeys.
Little Free Library
A similar project in some ways is the Little Free Library project. This isn’t something that everyone can host, but it’s something a community can be a part of. Little Free Libraries are small library “boxes” if you will. They can be set up on somebody’s property, and then the community can donate books. The books get taken by people who want to read them, and, hopefully, returned or replaced.
I discovered our local Little Free Library through Bookcrossing, actually, when a notice I received indicated that some books had been released there. I investigated the project and was quite impressed. Although I haven’t found any books there I personally want, I’ve dropped several off, including an extra set of the Lord of the Rings I had. I hope our Little Free Library grows and flourishes.
What Did the Stork Bring?
One project that’s a complete exercise in getting people together in acts of altruism is The Stork. I briefly mentioned this curious item in an earlier article. This project from Dreampunk Games was, appropriately enough, created through the auspices of Kickstarter (talk about a way to connect people!) It’s a handsome volume and distinctive enough that I picked up a copy when I saw it on the shelf at a game store in Berkeley, CA. Imagine my surprise when the first page I turned to told me that this book was now mine and that, if I found it in a store, I should steal it. I was intrigued enough to buy it (I just couldn’t make myself steal it) and find out what it was about.
When you have the book of The Stork, you become The Stork, a sort of agent of altruism. Within 24 hours of receiving the booklet, you must make a delivery. The delivery can be of anything, as long as it is something of value. It doesn’t have to be something physical. It could be a declaration of wanting to know someone better, a poem, a conversation, a hard truth. The package cannot be delivered by mail or email; it must be done in person. And the most valued person to bestow The Stork upon is a stranger.
When you receive The Stork, you fill in a ledger in the back of it indicating some data about the delivery you intend to make and then have the person you make the delivery to initial your ledger entry. You then hand them the book and stop being The Stork. Now the person who received the delivery is The Stork and has 24 hours to make their delivery. When the ledger is full, one can either contact Dreampunk and get a new copy of The Stork for free to keep it going, or they can add extra ledger pages that can be downloaded for free.
The only flaw I see in The Stork is that, once the ledger leaves your hands, you’re completely cut off from what happens to it. There’s no way to know if the person you delivered it to does something cool or dumps it in the trash. In a way, I realize that’s not the point of the game, but it would be nice to know.
Up on the Big Screen
I had the very great pleasure this week of seeing the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s excellent adaptation of The Whisperer in Darkness on the big screen. No, I wasn’t at a Lovecraft film festival. I was at my local movie theater with more than 30 others, many of whom I’d never met before. How you ask? Well, I guess you could say we’d just Gathred together.
Gathr.us is a site that helps indie film makers get their movies shown in movie theaters. One person sets it up by requesting a showing at a local theater. They then advertise the event however they can, and, once a certain minimum number of participants have signed up to see the movie, it gets a green light and the showing is a go.
I found out about through the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and the concept fascinated me. I set up the event and began to let folks know. I posted in several Lovecraft-oriented Facebook groups, told my personal mailing list, put up a poster in our local Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror bookstore, got the bookstore to mention it in their newsletter, and so on. In just a few weeks we got our minimum group and then sold out the showing. It was fantastic to get to share this wonderful film with others and to see it in a real theater. And the fact that my local movie house has popcorn with real butter, an excellent ice cream parlor, and wine and beer only helps to make seeing movies there that much more fun. I’m hoping to show the HPLHS Call of Cthulhu in February.
Tip of the Iceberg
The great thing is knowing that I’m literally only giving you a handful of highlights. I barely mentioned Kickstarter, and I didn’t mention the similar IndieGogo. Meetup,com literally exists to help people find or start groups that share a similar interest in their area. And this doesn’t even touch the ways that people interact now through sites like Zazzle, eBay, or Etsy.
The internet doesn’t have to isolate us. The internet can empower us. And a simple act of kindness, like sharing a book or a small gift, can be a moment of connection that someone might remember forever.
Is there a favorite website or project that you feel brings people together? Does the internet push us apart or connect us indelibly? Have you used one of the projects I’ve mentioned above, or do you have one you want to promote? Let us all know.