FRANK SOBEY: Changing face of the community
SO WHERE do you get your local news, the day-to-day happenings in and around our local community? Do you wait for the weekly Herald Express for an update of what has happened over the past week or so?
Do you chat with traders and friends as you shop for various needs in local shops?
Do you lean across the garden fence or pass neighbours in the street exchanging a few friendly passing words?
Well, if you're reading this you have probably answered the first question. Of course, having said that, you may be one of many people who also track the www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk website on at least a daily basis.
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It's not the easy read the printed Herald Express is, and many people don't have immediate access to a computer or mobile device. We shouldn't lose sight of that.
In passing, I have to tell you that I am typing this on an iPad! Using it I can log in to two other remote computers I also use at other locations.
How clever is that? Using my clever little iPad I can communicate with folk all over the world instantly using email, Facebook, Skype, FaceTime and other smart systems.
I can do all these things without leaving this dark corner of my quiet study. So that might give me the feeling that I am interacting with loads and loads of people.
Of course it is simply a 'feeling', because the only noise and vibrancy in the quiet of my study is the gentle tap of my fingers on the glass screen and the tick-tock of an ancient chiming clock!
But what about that local chit chat in the real world? Although I have campaigned for many years about local shopping and the danger, in my opinion, of towns surrounded by supermarkets, it now seems to me, sadly, the proverbial writing is on the wall.
Our dairy farmers have recently had a little to say about supermarkets and local communities.
Town centres now hopelessly struggle to attract folk back to local community shopping, but it seems to be an almost futile task.
You can see why the out-of-town experience works. The new cathedrals of consumer goodies seem so plentiful, and parking is just perfect.
A flawed parking control strategy in Torbay which saw the parking meter process as a cash cow rather than traffic management has hugely exacerbated the problem, and now whatever happens to undo that silliness the underlying economy has been so badly damaged.
Walking in Paignton the other day, I watched a hapless motorist get a ticket for stopping briefly to pick up a newspaper.
He couldn't argue with the fine because he should have purchased a ticket, but he didn't.
From what he was saying, I doubt whether he will drive that way again, and that sadly is an inevitable consequence.
Once people establish new pathways it takes something spectacular to win them back.
So what we seem to have also lost or perhaps are in the process of losing is that daily interaction of a community living locally.
The subtle transmission of information was at one time a constant and that was certainly true in the case of the local Post Office network which was a tremendously valuable local area focus point.
Ah yes the loss of the local Post Office! Tragic, tragic, tragic.
Localism seems to be disappearing from neighbourhoods where residents now are more and more likely to live in the virtual rather than the real world, and even the trip to the supermarket becomes an online event with a sweet little van dumping your goodies at the door. But why is this happening and why do we quietly accept the soporific outcome?
All this does make me sound like a curmudgeon. I'm not resistant to change, but not all change is for the better and we need to be very clear about outcomes.
Take the banking crisis for example, where those benefiting from the system also regulate the process, the gatekeepers.
Yet since the banking crash in 2007/8, what has changed? We still see the huge individual bonus payments which could build a small community health centre.
But I guess that it is about identity and too often the only way to change attitudes is by the dramatic.
American author Jeffery Robinson recently said the other day, while being interviewed about the latest bank scandal, that to stimulate change, 'you take the gatekeepers, those bankers, lawyers and accountants, put them in an orange jump suit and lock them in a 6x4 cell with a guy named Marvin who's got fanged tattoos on the side of his neck and that will get the attention of the other gatekeepers. When you start locking up the bankers this will stop.'
The Marvin experience may indeed be internationally necessary, and will indeed sharpen the most selfish of minds.
But it does make the point much closer to home. We shouldn't simply accept the decline of a community but take a good look at what decisions have been made and the potential impact of those decisions.
Take another look at why those decisions have been made and who really gets to gain.
But here is the bottom line. How do we get the information from person to person and how do we really respond as a community?
There is a phrase that loosely translates from bad Latin as 'don't let them get you down'. It's good advice. So keep the smile and keep the conversation alive!