Has social media killed social service?

Fred Flintstone is a Water Buffalo. Ralph Kramden was a Racoon. I was a Rotarian. The Golden Age of the Social Service Clubs seems to have passed as the dawn of Meetups and online giving has taken the place of breakfast meetings and luncheons where business owners would gather to create community, create lifelong relationships and be of service to the larger world.

I say this as someone who has spoken at over a dozen Rotary Clubs, and Kiwanis meetings in the past year. I’ve traveled from North San Fernando Valley to the far east of Paramount and the southern wilds of San Clemente to share a message of Podcasting or Ghostwriting. What I have found is that these once vibrant clubs of entrepreneurs, insurance salespeople, and small business owners are dying.

Walking into the back room of a restaurant I see a selection of older members (usually well over 50) who are still coming together to do good work, share their life experiences and create a sense of community. What I don’t see is young people. I don’t see new entrepreneurs looking to expand their circle of referrers. I don’t see civic-minded youth who want to build a better city. I don’t see the young sales person who wants to be building a long-term book of business amongst their friends.

My theory is that the internet and social media are driving this atrophy of altruism. The fact that people can now give online with GoFundMe Campaigns for everyone’s latest cat surgery, and the false sense of community created by Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram are, I believe draining the impulse for actual connection.

To test my theory I reached out to Phil Brock – the President of the Santa Monica Kiwanis Club. “The civic organizations like Rotary, Elks, Moose, Knights of Columbus, they helped bind the city. They were where you found a common interest and built lifelong friendships because you tried to help others. Today, you no longer have the physical connection, and without the meetings, it’s too easy to not connect. That’s why Toastmasters is so great, for the meeting and sharing. We’re losing a lot of that community connection, and service organizations are suffering. The Kiwanis used to have around 100 members regularly, today we’re down to the 40s.”

I asked why he thought there was such a drop-off. “Well I think it’s partly money but more the lack of time people have available to build relationships. We changed our meeting structure so that there is both a breakfast and a lunch meeting each month. That way people can choose which they’d prefer to attend. People find it harder to make a regular luncheon or breakfast with today’s fast pace demands. By switching it up, I hope we’ll better serve our membership.” Brock said.

When I pointed out the money issue is likely not the main driver when we have young people paying $4,000 a month for a one bedroom in Santa Monica, money is likely not the culprit for their lack of attendance at a $20 event. Brock agreed somewhat, but said, “We’ve dropped the ballpark cost of being in Kiwanis to around $650 a year, with the hope that another $600 will be donated to fund the good work we do in the city.”

The good work is something that Brock is pushing through the Kiwanis. “We have an upcoming event on Arbor Day where seven local service organizations are coming together to help improve the treescape in Virginia Avenue Park. Kiwanis just hosted a Dr. Seuss day where we distributed 300 books to kids, had a crafts room, and a storytelling session. The Santa Monica Lions club had their eye mobile – where they distribute used glasses, perform eye exams for those who need them and cannot afford them, and they need glasses when possible.”

For my part, seeing the decline in membership of social and civic organizations is a telling statement on the way our business environment is changing. As more and more services go online, there’s less need for our hometown insurance agent or even lawyer. The need for social and civic clubs to help with networking is changing as LinkedIn becomes the dominant way to promote yourself.

Personally, I think it is a tremendous loss to the fabric of our community that I hadn’t realized until I was on my speaking tour. The sense of community that is built by civic groups is an important thread that binds us.

If you’ve never been to a Rotary Club or Moose Lodge, there’s a wonderful opportunity this coming Thursday the 29. The Elks Lodge is honoring the city’s volunteers and their prestigious Citizen of the Year award goes to Phil Brock for the good work he has done across the community over his lifetime. Choose from a complete Tri-tip or Salmon dinner for only $20. A portion of the proceeds will go to help formerly homeless veterans at the VA facility. Parking is free, the Elks bar is inexpensive. All are welcome to attend. Please let them know you are joining by making a reservation at (310) 452-3557.

David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra