Garbage in Utopia
"Who takes out the garbage in Utopia?" This is a question asked anytime there is talk of an idyllic participatory community. The real question is, "Who will volunteer for work I don't want to do?" Perhaps a different perspective (like the cliché: "That's not a problem; it's a challenge!") may help.
In our home, we are used to having potlucks. We started having them weekly, when we moved here. What better way to get to know the neighbours? We've had almost 600 of them over the last decade. They are a great community builder, but we often hear people say, "I love these potlucks but, every week?!?! I couldn't possibly do it at my house." That's okay! You don't have to. We are doing it -- and enjoying it. You can do something else. Our friend L. shovels people's sidewalk, by stealth. Neighbours P&A share their swimming pool. V&J have movie nights in their garage-cum-personcave, N&C bring over fresh sausage when they've finished making it...
Usually our potlucks are just that: potlucks. Good food, good company, babies to grandparents, neighbourhood chat about events, kids, school, weather, music, politics, work... they're great. Then last week, we had a potluck with an ulterior motive. Our cohousing group has launched a new intranet platform so we can be in contact with each other and share stuff. We can share emails, documents, meeting minutes, recipes, rides, hikes, movies (at the theatre or on DVD), shovels, powerwashers... (want to borrow my teenager for the weekend?), anything internal to the group.
We have tried some other systems in the past and they have had significant imperfections. Some hosts are unresponsive, some sites are hard to use if you aren't a programmer, others aren't intuitive, don't make things easy to post, easy to find, or easy to see, once found. No platform is perfect but this one was built by Sean, a guy who is both an IT whiz and a cohousing community member, in the US. It's a good tool. And he is really responsive if something needs fixing or if we just would like something changed.
Last Sunday, we got everyone together and had a potluck followed by a tutorial on the care and feeding of this new platform. Our techie people like it and our low-tech/no-tech people seem to get it too. We will see if it becomes our preferred means of communication. I expect it will. Sean created the platform because he saw a need, he is good at building stuff like this, and he believes in cohousing so much that he offers the platform free. You wouldn't catch me trying to do that, but he's been doing it for 15 years and there are 21 communities using his work.
So, who takes out the garbage in Utopia? It's the person who gets satisfaction from seeing a clean and tidy place. It may not be you but someone will derive great satisfaction from doing that job. And the rest of us who hate taking out the garbage will thank that person sincerely. And each of us will find something to do for the community that our garbageperson wouldn't be caught dead doing... like hosting potlucks, or building, maintaining, and upgrading an intranet platform.