Mark Schmitt's got an excellent, thought-provoking post on the changing face of membership. Contra the Dean campaign and NARAL, he believes the era of dues-paying, weekly-meeting organization has passed, and we should start asking what's next.

He's right. I was as enthused as everyone else about the Dean for America MeetUps, but they survived only till the campaign's close, and only thrived while their buzz was enormous. The Democracy for America meetings that succeeded them were a pale shadow of their former selves. And I don't know anyone my age -- including me -- who's a due-paying member of any group, even those we distinctly agree with.

What's next? I fear it's this. Virtual community. Mark's observation that he simply doesn't have time to hit up a weekly or monthly meeting is well-taken, and much echoed. But he does have time to run a blog, and he's certainly enjoying the comments and community that have grown up around it. Zooming out, DailyKos has created a hell of a community for itself, as has MoveOn. These macro-organizations are like the NARALs and ACLUs of yesteryear, with the billions of smaller groups, quirkier clubs, and more eccentric meetings going on beneath the surface. When I was younger, I used to participate in a video game forum that discussed very little video games, but a whole lot of everything else. I know people involved in sports-based boards, camping-centric organizations, and online spots centered around everything else under the sun. There are thousands of smaller blogs on eccentric topic with hopping comment boards and burgeoning interpersonal relations. All these groups offer a stable community, and they all share a crucial characteristic -- you can participate in them from your desk, and do so all day.

As we leave the 9-5, physically-based job and begin to spend longer hours at work, we've less time to join the local bowling league or Democrats club. But we've much more time to spend goofing off in front of the computer screen. With the need for community still strong, these virtual groups that fit perfectly into your workday and are meeting whenever you lapse into boredom are the natural next step. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but it seems the direction we're moving in.

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