Our communication goal is to reach targeted audiences with content and delivery methods appropriate for them. This often conforms well to what Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said about all politics being local and local has usually meant geographically local. Far reaching media made a dent on this localism long ago, but more recent developments have the potential to essentially erase localism in geography. However, it may be replaced by an even more homogenous localism of habits and ideas.
Diasporas & international chattering classes
Supra-national groups have always played a disproportionate role in international politics. Diaspora communities of Jews, Greeks, Chinese, Armenians and many others have often had more in common and identified more strongly with members of their diaspora communities in other countries than they did with the phyically closer people in their countries of residence. There has long also been an international chattering class, made up of intellectuals and expatriates who see themselves as part of a wider regional or world community. This has been going on for a long time and we have adapted well in many cases to reaching these groups.
Local need not mean nearby
The new media has facilitated the creation of new “local” communities very much like diasporas or international intellectuals, but united by less abiding characteristics and more by sometimes transient common interests and socials media. No matter how esoteric an interest, you can usually find among the billions of people in the world a sufficiently large number of likeminded people to form a community.
Let’s take the example of a surprising community. “The Big Lebowski” was released in theaters in 1998 to a lukewarm response. It barely broke even in the U.S. and had it been released a couple decades earlier, it would have fallen into the memory hole and been generally unavailable except on a few college campuses. But in the Internet age nothing is unavailable and “The Big Lebowski” acquired a cult following. Now there is a Lebowski community. You can market to that community and you can reach them with particular phrases. No geographically local community could sustain this, but a media local community clearly can.
If a nation is a group of people who have common experiences, believe common myths and share common stories, what does it mean if virtual communities supplant geographical ones?
Yeah, well. The Dude abides.
Geography has not become unimportant. On the contrary, people are often sorting themselves geographically based on their habits, lifestyle preferences and even their political beliefs. Fairfax, County Virginia is separted from Montgomery County, Maryland by a about a hundred yards of river water. The topograhy is similar. They same sorts of plants grow in both places. They are part of the same metro area. Median incomes diverge very little. They have similar distributions of minority populations and the educational attainments of both populations are almost identical, yet people notice signficant differences in attitudes and behaviors and these factor into some home buying decisons. But geography is no longer the destiny it was in the past. There is another layer on top of the physical geography (although I bet Macs sell relatively better than PCs in Maryland than they do in Virginia.) It is possible for someone to live in one place but have most of his friends and most of the things that influence him spread all over the world. These are also local communities that we can identify and benefit from addressing.