The idea of virtual community is something I have been pondering lately. I was struck by this excerpt from Education and Community by Dianne Gereluk:
The Internet has brought people together in innumerable ways. People can join community chat groups that serve a particular interest for those members. Included among the various community sites on the Internet, one can now enter a ‘community’ site and find over five hundred sites to pray virtually online using the Yahoo search engine, find grief counselling and cyber romance, enter thousands of chat groups or become involved in ‘virtual’ protests through online petitions and action points.
I am especially drawn to the phrase “brought people together,” given that this ‘meeting space’ is virtual. It is nowhere in particular and yet it can be shared. In this way, personal connection can happen in virtual spaces. And since personal connection seems to be a foundation of community-building, then communities can be built in virtual spaces. I am not sure whether this conception of community is contrary to a geographical conception (e.g. “the community of Richmond, VA”), or whether it is geographical. Is the Internet a place? Do we all live there?
RELEVANT Magazine recently published an article urging people to stop trying to capture their lives on Instagram. “Let’s choose community. Let’s stop comparing. Let’s start connecting.” What is interesting about the article is that it doesn’t suggest that we stop using the Internet as a means of interpersonal connection. Instead, it suggests that we use technology for “building community instead of building carefully-curated images of ourselves.” The idea is that technologies like Facebook and Instagram are too public for meaningful connections, and that other technologies like Skype and e-mail offer more privacy.
So, the virtual-space-as-a-location has both private and public spheres. And according to this article, community-building happens more effectively in private virtual spaces. I think the public/private distinction makes the conceptualization of virtual space even more geographical, more physical. Not only do we all live there, but we have our own private spaces there. As though we each had our own apartments in the city of the Internet, and as though our communities reflected our virtual neighborhoods. It makes me wonder who my virtual neighbors are.