Friendship is a delicate thing in the physical world, so applying it to a digital setting can be tricky. The Baym article brings into question the authenticity of online relationships and the loss of meaningful connections with local communities. I feel like people can forget that these are problems that exist in the physical without the online world and blaming it on the online world is a scapegoat for human imperfections and the natural flow of relationships. Some friendships last forever, some just fizzle out, and others end badly or abruptly. Communities are also a product of relationships and some may stay strong while others break up. I am currently in Dr. Chayko’s Leadership in Digital Contexts class, and seeing her quoted in the article reminds me of a lot of things we have learned about community in her class. In her research she talks about what she calls the “rush of human engagement”. This refers to the feeling of positivity and connection (that warm feeling) when people communicate online. Of course this can apply to the physical world but there is something unique about the online version because we can feel this rush and feel like a member of a community without ever physically meeting. (Mary Chayko, I’ll Take My Community To Go).
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I do agree with the five qualities of online groups and communities and think they can apply to online and offline settings. Space, shared practice, shared resources and support, shared identities, and interpersonal relationships are all important and valid to community in either setting but may be constructed differently. Some of these qualities have the same strength in digital or physical locations, but some are also stronger in different settings. Space can be stronger in either context depending on what it is utilized for. If you want to play a game of basketball it just won’t be the same online, although the rules are the same, there is no physical gym or space to run around in. On the other hand you can’t form a group to kill a monster in real life and would need a gaming platform for that. Shared practice makes sense in both online and physical settings. People of the same religion go to the same church and everyone who likes fashion can follow a fashion blog. Even shared practices surrounding pro-eating disorder lifestyle groups, like in the McCabe article, can display this quality. Shared resources and support could be something that we don’t really have as much of in the physical world, but that we do have a lot of in the online world. I think that places like schools or clubs might have resources and support for friendship in the physical world, but that you are more likely to find them online. This may be because in our culture we feel we can fend for ourselves and asking for support is seen as weakness. It may be easier for people to admit this “weakness” online which can be seen as a more anonymous setting. Shared identities is a strong quality of community in both settings, it is clear that because people have something in common they group together. Online people who like sports can participate in twitter accounts, blogs, chat rooms and other areas with people who also like sports. In the physical world people who like model trains can go to conventions, visit museums, and have competitions in each other’s basements. Interpersonal relationships are one of the most important aspects of community to me. Not all online communities are alike; some people that are members of the same community will troll and be griefers instead of help out team members, like in the Dibbel article. One on one communication is more fragile because it requires more management than group communication. I keep thinking of gaming platforms where everyone can hear everyone else, how do one on one relationships get formed? Does one person feel shamed if they miss an important hit? Suppose someone stood up for that person, would they have a stronger bond than the other players? I suppose the same concept could apply to the physical world, in class if a group member loses part of an assignment and another group member stands up for that person, their interpersonal bond could strengthen. There are ways to construct feelings of community online and offline but that doesn’t always mean the community is successful, it takes work like all relationships and may require different kinds of work for online and offline communities.
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