Scheduling Community…REALLY???

polar plunge 6

By Kenneth Justice

~ Last week at coffee one of the patrons found out from one of their friends that I was on a coffee house tour and they came over to my table with a bunch of questions, “Since you’re such a coffee house connoisseur what’s your favorite hangout near the house? Is there some Indie-café you frequent?” she asked

When I told her that my favorite place near the house is a corporately owned one (the national chain with the green mermaid logo) she got a disappointed look on her face; I suspect she was looking for some cool little hole-in-the-wall hipster café that nobody knows about.

Don’t get me wrong, I love supporting locally owned businesses and I’m not the biggest fan of corporate chains…..but when it comes right down to it; I love coffee shops because I love the community atmosphere, the people, and the connections that are created. And while there are dozens of Indie café’s near my house that I stop by regularly; it’s this one particular green mermaid coffee house that has one of the most diverse atmosphere’s around.

—-) from my observation the patrons are 30% Caucasian, 30% African-American & 30% other

—-) the employees that work at this particular chain are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met at a coffee house

—-) the regulars that hang-out at the coffee house are warm and friendly; whenever someone that I haven’t met sits down at our table the regulars always introduce me and give me a short bio of who the person is

An older Jewish woman told me the other day, “I love this coffee house so much; I get more community here than I get with my relatives

I’ve written before that I believe we are social creatures. We crave community and we crave making connections with other people. In more communal cultures community occurs as a natural way of life. But here in Western Society community is something that has slowly died away over the past 100 years,

—-) Most people don’t know their neighbors

—-) Most people have to schedule their friendships

—-) Most religious institutions have to create ‘men’s groups’, ‘women’s groups’, ‘college groups’ etc. in order to stir the people to hang out together outside of the religious services.

When I visit Latin America I’m always astounded at how people are simply hanging out…..everywhere. They hang outside together at the grocery store, they hang outside together at the bank, they hang outside together along the side of the road……they are constantly hanging out with each other and talking, sharing stories, sitting quietly…..and simply enjoying each other’s companies.

The United States isn’t like that. If I asked a friend of mine to sit alongside the road with me and sit on the curb he’d probably think I’d lost my mind. But in communal cultures hanging out anywhere and everywhere is a normal way of life.

And so coffee houses here in the United States are slowly becoming the one last bastion of unscheduled community.  Sure, there are churches all around me that say they are about community, hell they even have the word ‘community’ in their name, “Oakland Community Church”, “Kensington Community Church”, and “Fellowship Community Church”…..and while it’s not my intention to dis their ‘community’, let’s call a spade a spade; the only community they offer is scheduled community. You’re welcome to show up to a service or meeting at a particular time; but if you simply drop by unannounced your likely to find the doors to the church locked.

Coffee houses are places where you can come by whenever you feel like enjoying a cup of coffee, studying for a test, or meeting a new person or one of the regulars to relish in unscheduled community. There are no pretentions at coffee houses; yesterday at my table was a retired school teacher, a 20ish college student, a licensed lawyer, and a barista on break; everyone’s opinions are valued and everyone’s conversation is encouraged.

Unscheduled community is slowly disappearing all across the Western World. Remember when our parents would talk to the neighbors for hours and hours into the late summer evenings? How often does that occur anymore? Thanks to the invention of central air conditioning, most of us don’t sit on our porches to beat the summer heat; but instead we close the window shades and huddle in front of the little box that entertains us.

Unscheduled community is in many ways a beautiful thing. It’s been a central part of humanity’s history and sadly……I wonder if it will one day disappear for good.

And having said all that I think I’m going to go get a cup of coffee right now,


If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a 100 coffee house tour all across the Western World. I will be Chicago this weekend! Check my homepage for dates and locations.

Categories: Culture & Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

84 replies

  1. I feel deeply the absence of community in the winter (that foot or more of snow they said would come is starting to fall here right now). I rarely see my neighbors in these drawn-in months. However, from late spring to late fall, we do still have that leaning-over-the -fence neighborhood thing you refer to, even though we live in a “bad section” of a rough city. It happens because we grow a lot of our own food on this double city lot. I’m out there at all hours of the day and evening when it’s possible to work in the dirt. It’s a good thing, too, since everyone at church is too busy to be a friend–or something.

    • Excellent example; because you are outside in the garden regularly people see you and feel comfortable to come over and chat. That’s kind of what happens at a coffee house; people see the regulars hanging out and become ‘comfortable’ with them 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Threshold of Heaven and commented:
    I especially find his thoughts on church communities thought provoking.

  3. Loved this post. We were meant to live in community. (Just like the Trinity) The more sophisticated we become the less real community there is. Sad really. When is the last time someone just “dropped in.” I remember that happening often when I was growing up. Hmm… Need to think about how I can reverse this trend in my own life.

    • “When is the last time someone just dropped in”

      I’ve had many people tell me they would be MAD if someone ‘just dropped in’ at their house. People sure have changed a lot over the past decades

  4. I’m not all too old (27 for the time being), however even from my not so long ago youth until now this change has become quite predominant. It isn’t just in the adult community but in many cases with kids as well. Growing up if the weather was nice we would all just kind of “get together” and hang out. Sadly enough when I visit my parents in their “community” you don’t see that so much anymore. Similarily, there is a lake in the community which growing up summertime, we would go on an almost daily basis- there would be barbecues all the time, volleyball evenings to learn and play- but sadly at this point in time the lake is barely used at all by anyone. I like air conditioning as much as the next person but nothing beats being able to sit outside on the deck or porch, relax, have a few drinks, and just hang out.

    • Chad I’m not much older than you 😉 and my experiences are exactly what you’ve described. Although, when I was growing up video games were in their infancy; Nintendo and Sega were about it…. but as the quality of video games has increased I suspect more and more children would rather play Halo than go outside and hang out.

    • Unfortunately to go along with it is many of the same people from when I were younger now fall into the video game trend.

  5. I miss having a community to belong to, when I was younger I had school and a coffeehouse and a much larger circle of friends, as I got older I had my community of retail co-workers. Even when I first started working in an office I had a work community with groups like toastmasters and our workplace committee. As time went by the company disbanded many of the workplace groups and we were told we have too much to do to waste time on trivial groups. Now I feel completely isolated, most of my friends live far away and my neighbors aren’t interested in getting to know me. Blogging has become my last refuge for any type of community and while I appreciate what it offers I really miss the personal interaction of being face to face with other people. I miss having a community I can interact with physically. Maybe that’s another reason I always get so excited to go to concerts with my brother, it’s the last community of people I’m still a part of, but that one only meets maybe once a year.

    • You’ve described exactly what so many people have told me face-to-face. A lot of people had what you used to have…. but suddenly, in some circumstances it seems like it changed over night. I’m not sure what is going on in the U.S. but there has been a drastic change in the area of community and while I have some specific ideas (like the advent of the Internet and the raise in gas costs) I’m not completely sure why things are changing so fast.

    • To me it almost seemed like community was something reserved for the young and old but for the “adults” we don’t have the time for such luxuries. We are supposed to be focused on working, bringing home an income, raising a family and generally engaging in responsible behaviors to maintain our career and home. Who has time for trivial things like community when there is so much else to do. If you try and create a community people act like you’re trying to shirk your responsibilities or something. It’s frustrating. Somewhere along the line the idea that being an adult meant learning to be self-sufficient turned into the misconception that you shouldn’t need a community while you could be providing for the people too weak or inexperienced to need one became the trend and I don’t know how we change it back.

    • I could be totally wrong, but I believe a major problem connected to what your talking about (community being reserved for the young or the very old) is that here in the U.S. we’re too focused on retirement. So much of our lives revolve around “our future”; pensions, 401K’s, etc. Instead of creating the kind of life we want in the here-and-now, instead we make decisions based on how we want life to be 30 years into the future.

      I’ve had to rearrange a lot of things in my life in order to live in the here-and-now. It took a number of years for me to readjust my thinking…. but I’m slowly moving into a whole new mindset, and its a mindset that very few people are even able to understand.

    • It’s hard to live without the (false?) sense of security that planning for my future provides. I used to do better before tragedy robbed me of the security blanket my savings account used to provide me. With our economy floundering and the very real knowledge that good performance and record profits don’t secure my position at work it’s scary to know I no longer have anything to fall back on. The room I used to be able to rely on at my parent’s house is now occupied by my niece, my unemployed husband has a mooching family occupying my basement instead of working on it so we can rent it out for income and we seem to be continually taken advantage of. I’d love nothing more than to say Fuck it all and move to a slower paced life but it just seems so irresponsible. Are there small steps one can take towards finding a way to overcome western culture?

    • “Are there small steps one can take towards finding a way to overcome western culture?”

      It would probably be irresponsible and too simplistic of me to make a blanket statement and say ‘yes’ because everyone’s situation is so different. So all I can do is say that for the past five years I’ve been revamping my entire philosophy on costs and have reduced everything dramatically;

      For instance, our cel phones, internet, and cable used to cost us an average of $300-$350 per month, I’ve reduced it to a fixed total of $145 per month. So while a savings of $150 doesn’t seem like much, when you figure that I’ve cut almost all of our costs by 50% (including mortgage, heating, auto costs, etc) it has changed our lives dramatically for the better.

    • I’d like to plant an extensive garden and we’re working on making our home more energy efficient, last resort is moving husband’s parents in to share cost of living. I can come up with dozens of reasons why we haven’t implemented any of the cost reduction tactics but I suppose what it comes down to is if something is important to you you’ll find a way and if it’s not you’ll find an excuse. Fear of admitting I can’t handle all this on my own keeps inspiring excuses to stay stagnant.

    • “is if something is important to you you’ll find a way and if it’s not you’ll find an excuse”

      Dude, that is about as honest a statement I’ve ever heard, and its right on the money.

  6. I miss community. Here in the US one rarely see the neighbors and that is the occasional Hi.

  7. “Unscheduled community” – what a novel description of coffee houses… yes, I understand. But I prefer the coffee and unscheduled community of Peet’s over the “green mermaid logo” place when I am in Northern California (where I am from – but am out of the country now). Happy day, friend.

  8. Yesterday, I took an hour to sit in a mermaid place, while my new landlord put up a closet door. This is a new place for me and I was people watching. The middle section of leather chairs were facing each other in a group. None of the seats occupants even looked at each other. I noticed that a woman in her 60’s with a woolen cap and bright yellow socks was reading the paper “out loud”. I kept watching and soon I realized she was schizophrenic and cursing. She got very upset and walked over to the counter and then disappeared. It made me really think how some people can ignore anything. The group never batted an eye. I don’t want to live in a society like that. Next time I will strike up a conversation with her. We have a lot in common. Ha!

    • Your observations are exactly what I experience; I’ll go to one coffee shop and the people completely ignore each other and don’t give a crap about each other…. but then I’ll go to a different one in a different part of town and its like walking back in time when it comes to how communal everyone is.

      Sadly,i think the unfriendly experience coffee house is where everything is headed 😦

  9. I remember community as a child. Those were truly the “good old days”.

  10. I’m adding a good blog to the meeting places used for community. This is a good example. People from varied backgrounds and places gather to talk about and listen in on whatever is the subject of the day.

    Most of us tend to stop in on a schedule for our dose of community. Keep your doors open, Kenneth.

    • Jim, right on. I’m working on a series of articles about why I believe blogging has become so ‘big’. And a huge reason is because I believe this platform is where many of us are going because unscheduled face-to-face community is disappearing.

    • I look forward to meeting up with you and the group and reading that.

  11. St**bucks is all over China like a rash. Many Chinese go there because they think it is the ‘cool’, ‘western’ place to go. There has been some controversy over the fact that St**bucks charges quite a bit more for its beverages here in China than anywhere else in the world, with no good reason. The latest thing to come to light is that St**bucks has openly admititted using a carcinogenic ‘shoe’ chemical
    ( ) in the food items sold in its Chinese outlets (this chemical is completely banned in foodstuffs in Europe btw).

    Don’t get me wrong, this comment is not meant as an anti-St**bucks rant, but I would find it hard to feel a sense of community in a coffee shop that was playing fast and loose with my health. They are now a BIG BIG business and need patrons to show them that they can’t behave like this with impunity, and voting with our feet is one way of doing it. Once they come to their senses, we can always go back. There are lots of other coffee shops out there that have just as good community vibes…think on.

  12. it’s wonderful to be
    a member of a community
    whether i think i am or not 🙂

  13. Reblogged this on Mermaids Singing and commented:
    I agree with Culture Monk: we are not meant to be alone; we need one another. The only other place which comes easily to my mind where we can just “hang out” is a library … And we’re supposed to keep it quiet there. Coffee houses it is!

    (I’ll take this moment to offer another shout out to Tim Horton’s who so kindly supports us during NaNoWriMo with lots of joe, food, and free wifi.)

    • Shannon, when I was younger hanging out at the library was a really big deal for me, but because what you said, ‘we’re supposed to keep it quiet there’, the atmosphere isn’t really conducive to community, thanks for the great comments 🙂

      (and I like Tim Horton as well)

  14. You are right. While technology in theory has allowed us to communicate instantly, we have lost the face to face human interaction. As a child I used to sit on the stoop and talk to my friends for hours. Today, people are in such a hurry to do things, often not even understanding why they are doing them. Human touch and contact is lost.

    • Agreed. My dad is the one who when he was alive used to tell me that he believed air conditioning has ruined neighbors meeting each other. Perhaps it was a bit of an overstatement but I often wonder if there was more truth in his observation than not.

  15. I hear comments from lots of folks in town that they knew my dad because he sat on the front porch all the time. They would come by and visit. I lived there for a short time and people still came by and visited. I had to move and boy do I miss those visits! in the new neighborhood, the only time people come out of their houses, is to get the mail or cut the grass. No conversation and no community. Even in the coffeehouses here, no one talks to anyone else…even when they know them, they won’t sit down with them. A sad statement on our dis-connected lives!

  16. This is one of my favorite things about the Deep South. Many still know the art of relaxing. They don’t always have to be going somewhere or doing something. It’s perfectly normal to just sit and BE. I do like that and miss it now that I’ve moved to “the big city.”
    Of course, if you like to sit and relax, then you run the risk of being painted as lazy. Ironic.

  17. It takes 6 month to see and talk to my neighbor. I feel sorry for my kids that will never understand community life.

  18. First of all let me just say that I am not a fan of air conditioning. And I live in a relatively hot place. It just drys my throat out. Actually, most Brazilians I’ve spoken with don’t like it. Even fans at night are encouraged to not be directly on top of you.

    Anyhow, a new cultural piece of info for you about Brazil based on this:
    “When I visit Latin America I’m always astounded at how people are simply hanging out…..everywhere. They hang outside together at the grocery store, they hang outside together at the bank, they hang outside together along the side of the road……they are constantly hanging out with each other and talking, sharing stories, sitting quietly…..and simply enjoying each other’s companies.”
    –There is a time here in June called São João. It’s almost as big as Christmas to many North-eastern Brazilians. In English it would be “Saint John”. It has something to do with celebrating John the Baptist and is mainly a Catholic tradition. Anyhow, my mother-in-law was telling me that when she was younger, before all the rise in crime and violence, São João was the night that people would walk throughout the neighborhood and simply walk right into people’s houses. The home owners would already have food, coffee, traditional S.J. dishes prepared and people would just eat and visit and talk.
    That doesn’t happen anymore, but people still go outside at night to commemorate and build a fire (it’s winter at that time) and blow off fire crackers all over the place.

    I have more thoughts on what you’ve written here and would love to share them, but this comment is already quite long and time is my enemy at the moment. Just thought you might appreciate the little snippet on culture.

    p.s. Now I understand more as to why we don’t have any great coffee shops here with a great environment and inviting atmosphere. Ok, there are a few, but mostly for the middle and upper class people to go and spend a lot of money. Too bad. In the south they have tons, from what I know, but it’s also a lot colder in the south of Brazil. In part I think it could have something to do with the whole hot climate vs. cold climate theory that I spoke of before (when you were in Costa Rica). Hot=relationship oriented & Cold=task oriented.

    • I write about the festival of São João in my short story ‘Purple Haze’. I think you’ll find it has its origins in Portugal.

      If you want to read it, it’s here:

    • Hey thanks. Yah, I’m going to check it out definitely. I only know what my my mother-in-law told me this past São João.

    • “p.s. Now I understand more as to why we don’t have any great coffee shops here with a great environment and inviting atmosphere”

      Exactly! Latin America doesn’t “need” coffee houses. In Costa Rica there are Soda’s everywhere (which I’m sure you already know are independently owned little restaurants that typically sell a couple local dishes) and its at the Soda’s where all the locals hang out. So coffee shops really don’t work in Costa Rica and the few that exist are mainly aimed at tourists and ex-Pats

  19. It’s sad because a lot of people think that because they “communicate” via FB and Twitter, that’s all the community they need. But real community doesn’t happen in “likes” and “dislikes” or witty one-liners. Community happens face-to-face amidst the chaos of day-to-day life. Community happens when people see and hear each other, when people share hopes and fears, trials and triumphs. Community requires time and intention and attention. When people ask me if I’m on FB, I respond, “No.” Usually after their audible gasp, I explain, “I prefer face ‘look’, because when mine’s in a book, I’m not communicating.” That’s my personal preference. It’s not about pretension or self-righteousness. I just need truth. I need real.
    Thanks so much for this relevant and thought-provoking post, Kenneth.

  20. I live outside a tiny village in Tipperary, Ireland. The older generations use the local pub in the same way you’ve observed communities in your coffee shop. If is step inside that pub, they all turn and state at the blow-in. I’ve only been here nine years! :0)

  21. * stare at the blow-in (apologies)

  22. When I lived in London, there were two Portuguese coffee houses opposite each other in Golborne Road. And those were the places to hang out. You’d read the paper, chat with friends or just hang loose. You knew you could always catch up with people you needed to, in one or the other, depending on the time of day and which side of the road the sun was shining .

  23. “The United States isn’t like that. If I asked a friend of mine to sit alongside the road with me and sit on the curb he’d probably think I’d lost my mind. But in communal cultures hanging out anywhere and everywhere is a normal way of life.”

    I would sit with you on the curb if I had the chance. You are right. People in the US have lost all ability to communicate. I am overcoming this through the internet but I want so much more.

  24. When I was 30 my wife and I moved from Southern California to a small town in Kansas. We chose Kansas because we had one great friend who could introduce us to the community and it provided a much cheaper cost of living which allowed us more time to do with as we pleased. One of the most surprising things was the way people would stop by to talk without anything in particular to say. People here live simply, but they have time to talk. I love that about small town life and continue to enjoy the slower pace of life here.

    When we go back to California to visit old friends, the pace of their lives reminds me of why we left. The only time our old friends get together is to celebrate our visit. They are generally too busy to meet together. We have tried to encourage some of them to find a new way to live but it seems the pull of the day to day is too strong to break. I wish they would because they would be happier.

    Community still exists, but it does require a huge change in lifestyle. That change, though, is undeniably worth it.

  25. Loved this, fantastic. You are spot-on. The comment about AC was true, it keeps us indoors. We live in a house that was built in 1921, with a huge, open front porch. When this neighborhood was built, people sat out on their front porches in the evening and visited with folks who strolled by. We are talking distance within our next door neighbor, however, I’m thinking of blocking my view of his porch with curtains or a plant–he asks everyone in the neighborhood for money (never pays back) and we are sick of him. Other neighbors have ‘No Trespassing’ signs on their front porches and back gates. They won’t even look at us when they put something in the dumpster, let alone say ‘hello’. Some neighbors are friendly, some not. We’ve lived in this new town nearly 2 years, and as much as I interact with other women, try to get to know them, it seems as if everyone is too busy to just hang out as friends. I think family, work and home obligations seem to take up most of the time. And Church— yeah, scheduled time and events. As a society, I think we’ve all just become too busy– with work, with kid’s activities— I don’t know what the solution is. And like another person commented, if you just ‘hang out’, people think you are lazy–or boring because you’re not working or ‘involved’ in some activity. Why does everyone have to be ‘on the run’ all time?? Geeze.

  26. A friend, (and fellow ‘slacker’), sets up shop everyday at a Tully’s on the beach here, with his phone and internet. Leather chairs, fireplace. There’s a whole community of them. It’s like going to the office, without a job. They chat, trade interests and work on their various projects. Life is good!

  27. You know…I often dream of this enormous porch where I can sit. I’d have my ice tea and comfy seat. These three making me so happy. I’d wave at everyone walking by. I’d call out a hello and up my walk they’d go. Before you knew it the porch full of people, some we’d met, others brand new. Someone would sing for us, others create a band and oh how we’d laugh. Doesn’t that sound grand? Is this Mayberry or The Beaves house, I’m not sure but it sounds fantastic!!

    Anyway…yeah I miss real neighbors. I blame living in the city. Country girl at heart, always.

  28. Community is important! I see community available wherever people are. Some of the best community I experience is when I drop by someone’s house or they randomly drop by my house. And yes I am a pastor and know it’s “not all about organized church”. I have been wanting to open a coffee shop for awhile, no agenda, just coffee and a chance to talk to the “world at large”. Maybe I will!

  29. As long as there are people like you who enjoy a conversation over a cup of coffee or any other liquid. it will not disappear.

    Here we have something to compare it with.
    Last year there were 36 people who laid dead in their own home longer then 2 months.
    the year before that it was 12.

    To hear that we do not even pay attention to family on times. to measure this way to show how much connection we have with neighbours. is making a chill run down my spine.

    I think we loose track of the people around us in the constant stream of 1000 messages online.

  30. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly taken part in unscheduled community. It’s interesting because, as I think about it, I feel anxious at the thought of talking to a random stranger. What if they don’t want to be bothered? What if I accidentally offend? At the same time, it would probably make my day for someone to ask what I was reading or witing.

    Even that has its own anxieties. I’m reminded of a time someone asked A friend in high school what she was reading. A popular kid talking to our clique never happened. When she told me about it, her first reaction was to wonder what he wanted. Did he want her to do his homework or something? It never occurred to her that he may have just been trying to strike up a conversation.

    We’re told our whole lives to fear what is different and avoid talking to strangers. It’s only logical that we would then grow into adults that criticize what is different and avoid strangers.

    • TK, what about when you were in college? Did you live in the dorms? A lot of people who live on campus in college tend to find hang out places; whether its at a common room, study hall, library, etc. I went to college locally but every time I’d go to the cafeteria, library, or computer lab I’d always end up running into friends from school and we’d sit and chat 🙂

    • We’re talking something unorganized, right? Most of the friends I made in college I met through a class I took with them, an organized church gathering for new students or through other friends. If I was in the cafeteria, I almost always ate with friends or had a book to read or homework to do while I ate. The time I spent in the library/computer lab was spent focused on homework with headphones on to drown out distractions. ….unless I had to do a group project…. but then, that was a scheduled group meeting.

      If I have a friend who invites me to hang out at a specific time and at a specific place where I meet her other friends and we all hang out…. does that count as unscheduled community?

    • I’m not really sure as to a specific definition of ‘unscheduled community’, especially because I literally created the term for this article lol. If it is an actual term used in social sciences then I must have forgotten that I studied it in the past…..

      I just know that I’ve talked to a number of people who often speak of their college years as being their favorite because of how ‘spur-of-the-moment’ their friendships were; they didn’t have to plan out activities and fun things to do… they kinda just occurred rather organically.

  31. Excellent post, buddy. Thank you for sharing this.

    I think about this a lot, too. I live in a mobile home park and I still barely see some of my neighbors. People are either too busy or just don’t want to come out.

    I also wonder if it’s a generational thing. I used to work at a breakfast place and every morning the same group of elderly gentlemen (50+ years old, most of them retired) would come in and have breakfast together. Sometimes all they would order is coffee and sometimes they would eat. But they would stay for hours and just enjoy the companionship.

    We need more of this. As a Christian, I also read the book of Acts and long for a church that is less about “where” and more about “with whom.” Entire communities would work to build a “kingdom” of believers who were never in need because they cared for one another. Check Acts 2:44 and 4:32. This, to me, is true community.

    You should also look into Shane Claiborne’s ministry, The Simple Way.

  32. You are right Kenneth, it seems that western cultural has, for the most part, embraced a different kind of communal interactivity as compared to other societies. Our lives are so busy that many do not have time for an unscheduled visit. Instead, we have opted for on-line (internet) communities such as FB and other social media that work with our agendas. Sadly, we have sacrificed personal contact with other human beings for the convenience of a gadget.

    I was at a church play last Christmas that my grand kids were in. The place was very quiet waiting for the play to begin so I looked back at the crowd of about 3 or 4 hundred people and was surprised to see that three quarters of them had their noses planted in their cell phones…no doubt checking some e-mails, or for a current post on facebook…nobody was talking to the person beside them. Odd! I tried to strike up a conversation with the stranger beside me, and it was awkward at best. So much for all our technology giving us more free time for other things, like quality social time….oops gotta go, just got an e-mail alert…new message…………………………………

  33. Something I have found is that older folks have the time and interest to visit. They like having someone listen to them, or someone to converse with. So what’s the difference between them and younger folks? The older ones are retired from jobs, the kids are gone, and also perhaps a spouse. They have time–plenty of empty hours. Sounds like we/I could make friends and have lots of social time with the older folks — if I can find the time 😉 Maybe I’ll crash the retiree’s coffee group at our local McDonald’s. 😉

  34. It’s hard for me to think it’ll totally disappear. It may have to morph and be different than it was but totally gone…perhaps but hopefully not. I love unscheduled community also. It doesn’t happen much in my life these days but it’s a cool thing for sure. Sometimes I do miss the days before social media and other technology has taken over – there just seems less time to be human. The time we have has to be spent being machines – working, squeezing in time to eat, take the kids to various practices, house chores, etc. There’s no time to just be anymore. It’s so unfortunate. Part of my own process now has to be making the time to do those things like photography (reading books on it so I can get better), just simply reading and listening to more music and doing the things that make me feel better. I think I’d rather schedule the electronics time and allow other things to just happen but maybe that’s just me. 🙂

  35. You’ve never been to Brooklyn and Queens, NY; NW DC in Washington I assume when you say folks don’t hang out on the stoop in USA? Take a trip to some of these places as you do your coffee gig. I was stationed in Nevada and boy did those folks love to hang outside as well and chat, eat etc. VW

  36. I agree with your assessment on a general level. However, I live in an extremely small town in Ky and one can usually find people just standing around chatting at the Post Office or at the only diner within 10 miles. While this may not be true for EVERYONE in town, most of us DO have an open-back-door-policy. “Just come on in” we say. That is what is so wonderful about small town America. It is like stepping back in time. We all wave at each other when driving down the road, even if we don’t know one another. I think that may be a “southern” thing.

  37. Oh, and BTW, we don’t even have a coffee shop with a mermaid logo. I guess it isn’t needed 🙂

  38. I love your comments about the difference in our cultures. I have friends and relatives, who do missionary work in the places you mentioned, and they tell me similar stories.
    Keep at it. You’re doing great. I look forward to each post.

  39. the employees that work at this particular chain are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met at a coffee house

    I think I’ve mentioned before that the one nearest to me are very nice and they quite happily fill my 5-gallon buckets with grounds. I don’t drink coffee but as long as we buy a mug or a baked good, and feed the tip jar, they are content and cheery. (We started asking the bank for dollar coins just to feed the tip jar.)

    I don’t really hang out there but I’ve run into former teachers and a few “everyday” acquaintances now and then. Sure, I miss the little mom & pop outfits from my college and university years, because they generally were more homey and relaxed.

    I miss unscheduled community terribly. There are still groups that do it (barbecues and the like), but they tend to be immigrant/new working class people.

    • Love this post Kenneth. I used to go to that very same coffee house because of the friendly staff and the ability to hang out as long as I needed to. In this little town its quite different. So I explore as many ways as I can, how to create community. I happen to be outgoing so talking to strangers is not a problem. I now have friends at the library-the little thrift shop downtown and today, I walked into a new storefront downtown and began a conversation with the owner. Its surprising how friendly people can be in a “small town.” I beieve there is a post on this for me. “SMALL TOWN?” At any rate. ..such a true post about community. Good job.

  40. This post is incredibly interesting to me. Two years during college I was an RA. My first year, I felt that the hall had a wonderful unscheduled community. Because everyone knew everyone, I barely had to enforce the dorm rules. Most people were considerate of their neighbors with noise, keeping common areas decent, etc. There was a feeling of ownership and it was a pleasant living experience. The most annoying part was the scheduled community time that the office of residence life required us to have.

    My second year, the group wasn’t cohesive. The lack of community was evident. I had to do much more policing. It was not so great of a living experience. Even the required scheduled community time couldn’t save us.

    Fast forward to adult life. I am a member of a couple scheduled community groups. The organization is less organic and more methodical… yet community has been achieved. The fellowship is just as rewarding as the sense of belonging in my first RA hall. These were the people who delivered meals and helped with my toddler during my last surgery.

    However, I wonder what too much community does to someone’s sense of independence. Several people I know don’t know how to spend time alone. As important as I feel community is (whether scheduled or unscheduled), there is something to be said for alone time.

    Great post and observations. I enjoy lurking on your blog.

  41. This is so true and something so accepted now that most of us don’t even notice it. Honestly, we prefer it? For instance, I live in an apartment building and when I think of sitting out on my patio and conversing with my next door neighbor, no, mostly I’d rather sit inside my house with my kids. It’s terrible!

    At Christmastime, my kids and I watched a movie, God Grew Tired of Us, which is a really great documentary about three young men from Sudan who become refugees in the United States. While they certainly gain safety and resources here, much is lost. Community. So, profoundly impoverished here, as compared with in the refugee camp and in the family lives many of the boys fled from. My ten year old was (as I was) very sad when the movie ended, not only for the men’s struggling with the colder, distant relationships among strangers here, even neighbors, but also for what it means for us, day to day. He had this idea that there should be something called a “parlor,” where people go just to hang out and be together, play games, talk.

    I agreed with him and said the closest we have anymore is coffee shops.

  42. Well said !

    My Mother used to chat to everyone who walked past (when she was gardening), but that was an ‘age’ thing.

    Unless it’s a trendy or ‘arty’ coffee chop, people don’t talk to strangers.

    I talk to more people (when a stranger walks past in the Botanic Gardens while I’m taking a photo and starts to ask what I’m photographing).

    People, in general, are taught to never talk to strangers when they are young here in Australia. Children don’t play on the street, at the local park or ANYWHERE (without adult supervision) because it’s generally not safe.

    I don’t drink coffee/tea outside of my one cup of espresso first thing when I get up, so actually never go out to coffee shops or meet anyone ‘for a coffee’. But that’s just me. Since I live on a frugal pension, I never go out to eat or socially anyway.

    I think it’s a sad world we live in, when our children are taught to never talk to strangers and they grow up sticking to their own circle of friends (for the most).

  43. I moved from the DC area to Baltimore to be part of its thriving and creative community environment. Only 60 miles apart, the difference is night and day. DC tends to be a transient place of temporary power brokers; Baltimore is a connected patchwork of hundreds of friendly mixed-culture communities. It has taken on the brand of “Charm City.”

    Sent from my iPhone

    • Robert, right. There are definitely still cities out there that are bucking the trend; unfortunately I fear that the more individualistic attitude of the suburbs has begun to take over

  44. I address this issue sometimes on my blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever put it so well.

  45. Beautiful!! I really resonated with what you wrote although I might not fully agree with it. There are almost no absolutes in the world and I frequent certain societies where “unscheduled community” is very common. So i’m not saying that your point is false, but that life like that is just harder to find.

  46. Outstanding articles like this help motivate us all. Let’s not let community ‘disappear for good’ by following your example: Let’s head out for some coffee (or tea) and relish some unscheduled community. Cheers, Gina


  1. Being friends with people at the bottom…REALLY??? « The Culture Monk
  2. The Problem of Architecture (The Loss of Tribe) | Matthew D. Kiehl
%d bloggers like this: