Change is in the mind this week. Autumn leaves, for example. The end of summer time. Local elected officials are preparing to put their own imprint on municipal affairs. Climate change, as the COP26 conference drew representatives from many nations, including tribal nations, to Scotland to try and control the inevitable changes on the planet a bit.
Change is generally understood to be a function of time, but I think it also depends on location.
This notion grew as I helped plan my recent college class reunion. Listening to descriptions of students, faculty, and administration grappling with Covid-19 restrictions, I gained a new appreciation for the extent to which a college or university depends on things other than academics. to create a sense of belonging. Sport helps to create the overall identity, as do dormitories and student centers to relax. Mingling on campus every day gives resident students and commuters a sense of belonging not only to other people and to one thing – the school itself – but to a place where everything is happening. In their future lives, they will have memories of it as the setting for all the stress and silliness that changes college life.
When the pandemic closed campuses and pushed students away, the whole experience of the place changed. And if distance learning works, and costs a lot less, wellâ¦. Why “here”, where they really weren’t? Why not elsewhere in cyberspace?
Do we think of cyberspace as a place? It’s not always a safe place to stay, as evidenced by testimonials about damage caused by Instagram, FaceBook, and the like but dismissed by owners.
We now live in a generation in which people’s sense of belonging is stalked by prefixes. Displaced people – refugees and migrants – move around the world; workers replaced – people’s jobs have evaporated or been handed over to AI; misplaced trust in something or someone presented to us as reliable, but really not.
Times have changed our sense of belonging and our own place as a whole. Uncomfortable, we question what we know and whether we trust the source. It’s a fact. Unless that’s not the case. Unless I or the person who told me, posted it, made it up, or believed something without criticism, is unreliable.
People have learned this distrust from their own experience. For me, the great loss is the confidence that the public had in the pact that journalists traditionally kept with readers and viewers: to report facts. As the editor of a newsroom, I would regularly ask reporters who came with an article to write: How do we know? Being able to guarantee the accuracy of the story is the basis of our contract with readers. It defines the place of journalism in a free society.
A feeling of belonging gives us our bearings and allows us to move forward. The sense of place is not that different from the sense of the quality of light or sounds of the neighborhood – an awareness of where we are and what surrounds us.
An online chat room could be one place, in that sense. But a real sense of belonging takes into account the living, breathing and non-breathing organisms that surround us. Humans living in the same place at the same time each wave their antennas and translate the signals into their sense of place.
A sense of belonging does not negate change; it incorporates the change into our understanding of the familiar – home, alma mater, favorite beach. A place can be visited, walked and seated. He can be known for sure. And it’s a change we can all use.
Lisa McGinley is a member of The Day’s editorial board.