Online friendship is a concept I am more familiar with than I would generally care to admit. As an awkward preteen, I took to forums dedicated to my various interests more frequently than to in-person social gatherings. As a result, I have a positive view of such communities – I learned a great deal (be it about guitars, Sonic the Hedgehog, or god-knows-what-else I was into then) and made “friends” with others on the board. I worked with other members of these communities on various projects: a website cataloging Green Day’s guitars, collaborative recordings of Offspring covers…
That didn’t mean that occasionally, this wouldn’t happen:
but such is the danger of anonymity – and the benefits outweigh the risks, no?
Online community today is vastly different. Just as with the internet in general, communities have become more generalized. In other words, people’s favorite websites in the past often dealt with specific areas of interest (a guitar website, a Sonic website, etc.). Now, people’s favorite websites likely often similar – Facebook, YouTube, etc. – and they instead focus on, for example, a Facebook page about classic guitars, and a YouTube channel for Sonic fans.
The effect of these new platforms and this sort of generalization of the internet is a decline of the reaffirming communal experiences that one saw a decade ago. In Baym’s words, “technologically based definitions of “community” fall apart in the face of variety” (72). However, this is all from the perspective of a user whose participation in online communities peaked around 2004. In observing my little brother collaboratively create and share gameplay videos of Call of Duty, I wonder if strong communities are still possible over today’s shiny new internet. Though an older generation may not have the time or interest to engage online in this way, the existence of rich communication tools is undeniable; it remains to be seen just how they are best implemented.