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by Gerry McGovern
Author, New Thinking

The Latin root of the words 'common,' 'communication,' 'community,' 'commerce,' 'commune' and 'communism' are the same.

'Com' in Latin is used to mean "together, in combination or union, altogether, completely," according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Thus, a word such as 'commerce' means "together with merchandise."

The traditional war between Communism and Capitalism is over. However, the idea that commerce and communism could have something in common must send at least a mild shiver down the ideological spines of some people.

In fact, there is still an ideological divide in many people's minds between what is community and what is commerce. The early Internet was a close-knit community made up mainly of academics and researchers. The idea of introducing commerce into the Internet environment was regarded by many of these early settlers as anathema. There was an argument that commerce somehow sullied and degraded things, that keeping the community pure meant keeping commerce out.

At the gates, the commerce hard core crowd sneered. To the 'to make a buck you need to kick some ass' ultra-capitalist, communities were namby-pamby things that the children and the wife got involved in, but had little to do with real men making real money.

The Industrial Age has been great at mass-producing things. We got mass produced cars, mass-produces houses, mass-produced cities, mass produced minds, mass produced people. In the mass-produced minds were lots of mass produced rooms, lots of walls, lots of fixed ideas. The world may have moved from black and white to colour television. Thinking and politics remained fairly black and white, though.

If the Digital Age is doing anything it is forcing us to rethink our world and ourselves, to look at what we know with fresh eyes. Lo and behold, when you think about it, commerce and communities have a lot in common.

Without communities, commerce becomes an uphill battle. Communities, for starters, are full of people, and people buy things. However, communities contribute far more to the commercial landscape than just people. They provide structure and definition. Communities develop cultures, and culture is the root of style. And style sells.

Think for a moment of the importance of the 'home market' for most companies. Most of today's mega multinationals were nurtured within their home markets before they went out to conquer the world.

Communities need commerce. The early Internet was very much an artificial community. In was, in fact, a very elite club. The academics and researchers didn't need to commercialise the Internet, because they were getting salaries from the State. (The State being able to pay these salaries because of taxes on commercial activity.)

I come from a small community in rural Ireland. It's quaint, it's nice, it's friendly, it's got a long history. Commercially, things aren't so good in my community. Agriculture offers less and less opportunity. Young people have left, old people are left. Unless my community gets its commerce together, in twenty years it will be history.

Communities need commerce, commerce needs communities. The challenge on the Internet today is to create structure which allow both to feed off each other and thus thrive.

� Gerry McGovern, New Thinking. All rights reserved.

Gerry McGovern is the author of New Thinking, a weekly column which has received numerous accolades and a book, THE CARING ECONOMY

The Caring Economy
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The Caring Economy, by Gerry McGovern, is published by Blackhall Publishing of 26 Eustace Street, Dublin 2, Ireland. ISBN 1-901657-61-2 Price _27.50 or US$35.95
Email: [email protected]

It is also available in the United States from Irish Books & Media, 1433 East Franklin Avenue, MN, USA 55404-2135. Call toll-free: 1-800-229-3505.

Email Gerry McGovern at [email protected]
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