13 April 2010

Communities Online

I just unsubscribed from a few listservs. One, the online community of practice on communities of practice, is actually a very elaborate and active online community. Like a lot of things, I get jazzed about it, sign up, think it's useful, (or maybe just interesting), then I get onto or back to other things and it's a nuisance--the digest of posts in my box, that is. 

I lived a stint in an honest to goodness community-community. I got dinged once for having a bbq, and only inviting a few of the 20 some odd residents living there at the time. I was told that it was a middle-class thing to do. Actually, it was an honest appraisal of my behavior as compared to the community-spirit I typically enjoyed there. 

I've felt a sense of community at other points in my life, but it's been a while. I'm not sure that the way I live now, and the things I do are eligible for the kind of community I've lived in the past. I meant it when I wrote community-community. As much time as I spend online and as much as I've observed community in Second Life, I'm hard-pressed to see onlineness as having the same value as facetofaceness for a lot of life's important stuff. Put another way, the bulk of my online activities are instrumental, not social, in nature. I live in a city; I walk out the door and there are people on the street. There are dozens of organizations I could get involved with, and events of every kind to attend.

I've studied the history of online communities; and in Second Life I met some folks who had clearly been there, in the 70s, when it all got going. The Well is still alive and thriving. Online communities are common. So what else is there it about online communities that doesn't do it for me at this point in time?
  • Sure I like discussing things, but I do that all over the web. 
  • Yeah I need support sometimes; I call my friends on the phone or go see them.
  • I have reference points with other cultures and lifestyles; I experience being online socially as an inferior life experience.  
  • I'm sitting in front of my computer now producing something. I prefer this kind of online-ness.
I might change my thinking on this.