Modern civilization was founded on the foundation of community. It’s only right that as we undergo societal evolution that our understanding of the world around us evolves as well. Now that we have expanded our population to include digital or electronic selves, we must reapproach our comprehension of community to involve the time and technologies.
The first thing that we must consider is whether the internet is helpful or harmful to the idea of community. The truth, as it is with many things, is found in combination. The internet performs a type of give and take with its idea of community. The expansion of communities to online settings has increased capabilities of online communities. Offline communities have their limits, the largest of which involves physical being. Physical communities are bound by time, distance, and space; three components not important to online communities. As Baym says, “Their combination of interactivity and reach allow people to come together around shared interests, transcending local communities in ways that may be personally empowering but potentially polarizing” (Baym, pg. 97). This brings me to the way in which the internet is harmful. This polarization that Baym discusses can hurt the overall idea of community because although everyone is part of the “online” community, they will go their separate directions and we will experience and polarization. This separation of groups, although allowing individuality and direction, has a negative effect on community.
It is quite obvious at this point that I believe communities can exist online and connections of all types can be made and maintained. Due to the mass exposure of the internet there are communities for all types of people, even ones designed to ruin others. I am referring to a griefer, who according to Dibbell is “someone who takes pleasure in shattering the world of play itself” (Dibbell, 2008). These people go into worlds like second life or world of warcraft and just try to ruin the fun of others in their sanctuaries for their own selfish enjoyment. Nevertheless the existence of griefers exemplifies the widespread types of online communities and meeting types.
It is this ability to collaborate with people of like minds and separate from others that make online friendships work. McCabe says, “The Internet provides the context in which persuasive messages can reach a large group and where one can be part of a community while maintaining anonymity” (McCabe, pg.13). With this level of message exposure in combination with anonymity capabilities you create a comfortable environment or community for participants. In a physical community there is complete transparency whereas online communities are more translucent. You can see what a person says but not the actual person (if they don’t want to be seen). Physical distance, privacy, and openness make online communities not only real, but sustainable and enjoyable.