More than just a parade

The Halifax Natal Day parade in the 1950s. Photo: HRM Archives

As we live in our own little online worlds, shared experiences are more important than ever 

November is the month that you and your family or friends might head downtown to watch the Santa Claus parade, known in Halifax as the Parade of Lights. 

You may not thank me for the reminder of how we’re hastening toward the holidays, but I raise it because it turns out that in 2022, a parade is quite a remarkable social event. 

I happened to wander past the Natal Day Parade on South Park Street in August. There were people of all ages, colours, and socio-economic backgrounds: multi-generational families who’d brought chairs and coolers, kids with grandparents who were giving the parents a morning off, and groups of friends. 

It was nice to see such a heterogenous gathering in Halifax — a large, diverse group united in its goal: to enjoy the floats, the bands, and each other’s reactions. 

Our sense of community, and the ways we reflect that in our activities, has become so decentralized as to be fractured. We’ve lost our figurative town square, and maybe any overriding agreement about what’s important. Or even any common understanding about what’s going on around us. 

This is a side-effect of our collective transition to online life. 

Most people no longer subscribe to local newspapers as their primary source of information, so they’re less likely to have common topics of conversation about what it means to live here. Replacing that news source is free content and endless opinions online that focus on exactly what interests them. It’s the bubble effect. 

Fewer people watch the same newscasts, or even the same TV shows. No more Friday morning water-cooler rehash of the latest episode of whatever the top show is. Appointment viewing is dead, and the streaming universe is vast and varied. 

Some of this is good. A democratization of information sources means we have alternatives to the “voice of god” corporate editorial board determinations of what matters and how we should think or feel about it. 

The downside is how, as a society, we’ve become hyper-focused on specific issues or interests, yet less informed generally. 

I’ve been following a new online media entity called Atlantic Newswire (not to be confused with the commercial press release service Canada Newswire). Atlantic Newswire describes itself as run by several social justice and community groups in Halifax. As of this writing, it has only filed stories on one topic: a woman renovicted by a dodgy landlord. It’s a good story. But the point of view here is finely focused and doesn’t say anything about a larger context. 

It’s not that housing or other social issues aren’t urgent. It’s that our public debates are becoming stale. 

Writer W. David Marx, in his new book Status and Culture: How Our Desire for Social Rank Creates Taste, Identity, Art, Fashion, and Constant Change, talks about a cultural malaise and concludes that the age of the internet has brought a flattening of culture, a “stuckness” or stagnation. 

That’s reflected in our public conversations and interactions. With so much hyper-focused content swirling around us all the time, how are we to recognize what’s relevant or important, or spot larger cultural signals? 

It’s all a bit esoteric, but it brings me back to that holiday parade. Sure, it’s an over-simplified trope for community connectedness. But collective experiences create a stronger sense of community and help us understand a bit more about each other and our world. 

A parade is a happy-clappy image. But it’s also a place where Haligonians of all descriptions still gather and have the same experience. 

And in 2022, that’s really something. 

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