I’ve been contemplating the topic of “community and technology.” I was invited to participate in a synch-blog on the topic. I guess the idea is that a number of bloggers all explore the same topic. The result, presumably, is a number of different perspectives on the same issue. I’m looking foreward to reading these. I hope you will, too.
The bottom line for me: the internet and other technology pose a danger to authentic community. There are ways that this all can be used as an aide to help things along within a real community. But they also pose a temptation, a risk.
We often throw around words like online community. I’d like to challenge this thought a little bit. I’d go so far as to suggest that it’s nearly impossible to have a community where the people aren’t dealing with each other on a face-to-face basis regularly.
I think that we can fool ourselves into thinking that we’re in community with people. I think that we can feel like we’re in community. When we have these online relationships, they can feel so much more satisfying than our flesh-and-blood relationships. They can be so efficient, easy, and convenient.
And the real danger is in this efficiency, this ease, and this convenience.
I believe that one of the biggest reasons that real community is so important is because of the ways real community challenges us. There are special brands of selfishness that are never challenged if we never live in real community. There are important ways that we will never suffer if we never live in real community.
In a real community or an online one, we can laugh with people and we can cry with people. And these are important things to do. But only in a real community can we actually sweat with each other, serve with each other, work for each other.
In a real community or an online one, people know the things that I want them to know about me. And this is also important. But in a real community, the things that I don’t want people to know, the parts of me I am ashamed of, the parts of me I am afraid of, these begin to trickle out. When I can sit back and easily contemplate the exact word choice on an instant message or email, I can manufacture who I am. But when I’m in a face-to-face conversation, I say the the things I really think and feel. They might not always be wise or kind. But they are real.
In a real community or an online one, I can prioritize my time so that we are able to spend time together, just focused on each other. But a real community eventually integrates itself into my every day life. We don’t just talk deep talks and think deep thoughts: we do mundane, silly, every day things together: shopping, shoveling out the sidewalk.
Generally, my participation in an online community is on my terms: my interactions happen when I want something from the group. My participation in a real community, though, this happens when the community needs me. It’s so easy to walk away from online interactions. It’s so easy to just stop showing up. People in real communities are available to each other, even when they don’t want to be.
I realize that there might be online communities which defy my expectations. I am positive that there are face-to-face communities which are so shallow and superficial. And increasingly, our relationships straddle over this divide: we both interact through technology and face-to-face with people.
I’m a blogger and a voracious emailer. I do get it. There are people who I’ve never met face to face and I wish so desperately that I had met them in the real world.
But I know that there are very few things that are more important than real community. We don’t need casual friendships. We don’t need long email lists, or blogs with thousands of readers. We need community.
Community is sometimes hard work. It’s sometimes messy and just plain hard. Real community can hurt us in a way that very few other things touch.
And so when we’re faced with a psuedo-community, with community-light (half the commitment and all the flavor or ordinary community!) It can be easy to jump at this chance.
The relationships we form, the interactions we have might not be bad things, unto themselves. But the real community that we might engage in suffers. Because real community takes time. If we allow our time to be swallowed up by unimportant things, we end up with none left for the important ones. And if we rationalize that our needs are getting met, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we don’t need real community at all, and our worlds grow smaller and smaller, shrinking down to ourselves at the center of the technological web. Our cells phones, internet connections, lap tops, twitters, blogs, web pages, facebooks: these are these strands that reach out from where we are to the far corners of the earth.
But the problem with being at the center of this web is this: it’s easy to think that we’re the spider who spun the web. But the truth is that we’re the prey, stuck to the strands and about to be eaten.
For a couple other really interesting takes on the topic of “community and technology”:
Jeff Goins is putting a positive spin on the answer to the question, Can online community exist? – http://jeffgoins.myadventures.org/?filename=can-online-community-exist
Paul Vasilko shares about A surprise in his inbox – http://paulvasilko.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/techonology-synchro-blog/