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Michael Drew Headshot

Community Rising

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Like a lot of Americans, I'm watching the Olympics from time to time. I do wish I could still hear the music for the skaters while muting the endless, irritating chatter from the NBC announcers. But you can't have everything.

I'm not a fan of the whole Olympics machine, but I am, like many people, an admirer of physical prowess and achievement. These days those achievements are part of the hoopla of the Olympics, so you've got to put up with the blather to get to the good stuff. But at least a lot of people are united by rooting for their country's gifted athletes.

The sense of community that watching these games provides is important. Rooting for your home team isn't new, but I feel that the sense of community that live television provides is something special these days, in an era of niche viewing that our many e-devices allow.

We can watch what we want whenever and wherever, by ourselves or with friends. But I find that we like the whole group dynamic these days, despite the choices available for isolating. You may have noticed we think in terms of community these days, more so than we did, perhaps, 15 or 20 years ago. I explore this phenomenon in Pendulum," which I co-wrote with Roy H. Williams: how society shifts from an inward or individualistic cycle to a more socially aware, community -- minded one every 40 years or so. We're in a cycle that they call "We," and that began around 2003 -- and that is marked by our wanting to work together toward a larger goal.

We based our findings on research into cultural change over the last few millennia. But you can also track changes through the modern algorithms the Google Books Ngram Viewer.

Google's Ngram Viewer charts phrases and words as they appear in the millions of books it has digitized, creating a timeline of word usage. It's fascinating. If you type in the word "community," you find it rising in usage at the year 2000 (the last one available) just as our new community-minded cycle was beginning. Toward the year 2000, the word "individuality" was beginning to lose frequency. And the word "social" was taking off, too.

While these are words that appear in books, they are also, one assumes, on the lips of the everyday person -- books reflect the time in which they are written.

At this point, the Ngram Viewer data only goes up to the start of the new millennium, so you won't really know the trends of the last decade. But since you've been living through them, you have an idea: we're thinking more in terms of "us" and less in terms of "we," even as economic and income disparity is getting worse. That said, the 1 percent are a community, too -- albeit a much smaller one than those you and I belong to.