It was an April day in 2011 when the popular local email mill, the Cornwall Community Network, went through one of its weirdest moments. One member posted an announcement that an active CCN fellow had passed away from a heart attack. David Becker, the man in question, had grown up in Cornwall, but left to become a truck driver traveling all over the country.
Condolences came in promptly. One writer expressed a common sentiment, saying that he “disagreed with him most of the time” in uncounted debates. Becker was remembered as a “great character” who would “certainly leave a hole on the CCN wall.”
Just a few hours later though, Becker sent upbeat greetings from a truck stop in North Dakota, which he puckishly dubbed “the land of the living dead.” He was fine. After his CCN resurrection, Becker, who lives in Georgia, kept writing his missives (with his typical touches of cynicism, self-deprecation, and a prickly political attitude). But a few weeks ago, he hauled himself off the site. Not that he died this time. He simply had enough of a town, as he framed it, that had
“become a pseudo-Berkelyesque, no differing opinions allowed imitation of a place that used to embrace reasonable discussion.”
He complained about a “toxicity exhibited here lately, just as in the world in general.” So far, Becker has refused all entreaties to return. A heated discussion ensued about censorship and what constitutes an appropriate topic for the Cornwall Community Network, then died down.
In the middle of the hubbub, Gary Steinkohl, president of the Cornwall Association, now in charge of the CCN platform after it was moved to a new web-hosting company, issued a stern admonition. It read: “The CCN is a forum for Cornwallians about Cornwall. If you want to have divisive diatribes, bullying, name calling, demeaning postings then YOU take them elsewhere.”
All of this might be a sign of the times, reflective of a site which in a period of social-distancing regulations had become more active.
There are some potential elsewheres, including a new Facebook page launched by Richard Griggs, the man who has taped countless videos of local events and posted them on YouTube. He named it “Cornwall ct.” The site has some advantages over the CCN. It can handle photos and videos and organizes comments in a steady flow within every topic raised. But experience indicates that its discussions don’t go very deep. And the practices and reputation of Facebook, the billion-dollar company in the background, have raised many eyebrows.
At the same time, the Cornwall Association is working on a redesign of the website cornwallct.org, which fills a hole that exists because the town never created its own site for official business. Clearly, well-organized digital communication has become essential. And as a “very Cornwall thing,” as Rocco Botto, the designer of the new website puts it, it was “started as a grassroots effort” and “is administered by a group of dedicated volunteers. “The goal is to have the new site launched by the new year,” Rocco said. Judging from a first glimpse, it will be a great improvement.