Are Your Engagement Patterns Changing?

I continue to wonder about the changing face of community, and if this is effecting engagement patterns. This jumped at me just today while I was meeting with colleagues from Chatham University, Mamre Association in Brisbane (via Skype) and fellow members of our CLASS community. 

We have been working on an "engagement project" looking to survey families who have children with disabilities, and comparing them to families who have similar aged children without disabilities. This project emanated from discussions with families who are weary from the challenges that disability brings to their effort. Not the physical issues they have to deal with, but more the staring, eye rolls, and actual unwelcoming feedback they get from others when their child has a melt down, or shows other behaviors that people see as different. 

Many of these families have reported that it is sometimes just easier for them to stay at home, and not engage in typical community activities. This spurred us into wanting to investigate this issue a bit further. So we took the Social Capital Benchmarking Survey developed at Harvard and began to adapt it for this purpose. We will start our interviews in March. 

Today, in discussing this effort, we wondered if community engagement is changing, in a way, for all of us. That is, given the economic issues, the work demands faced by most parents, and the advent of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and others, perhaps most of us are engaging less in person. Could it be that Facebook interactions, as anticeptic as they might be, are taking the place of the corner tavern, or cafe. 

I know that often when I enter a cafe, there might be a lot of people, but mostly staring at a computer screen, with ear buds wiring them to their devices. Where is the "engagement" in this scene? Certainly people are engaged, but more in a virtual world, than a face-to-face world. 

So, is this good or bad? Have you thought about your community engagement patterns? When you are actually with people, do you find yourself sneaking peaks at you smart phone? And if so, why is that; is a message more important than the person you are with? 

Just thinking about this today.