Online worlds

I recently attend a dinner party at which there was a lively debate about the online experience offered by social networking sites. The overwhelming majority view of those present (average age probably around 58) was that the internet was destroying the traditional concept of a ‘community’ by persuading social networkers that what they were experiencing represented genuine social interaction. It was however not, one person present suggested, a real experience st all: virtual networking was at best a fantasy. A real network needed real human interaction, real meetings, the touch of another human, and people looking into each others’ eyes.

Well, yesterday and today I have been in Los Angeles attending Vidcon, which describes itself as a ‘yearly conference for people who like video’. In fairness, that doesn’t describe it at all. It is a conference for those who reach out to the world on youtube, who broadcast themselves or who ‘follow’ others who do so. There are probably some 4,000 or so people attending the event. I am here to accompany my son, who is an enthusiastic fan of several youtube broadcasters.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what I have found can best be described as a very lively and very real community. Many of these people have never met ‘in the flesh’ before, but they relate to each other instantly and know each other almost intimately. The opportunity to meet probably adds something, but it isn’t what has established the spirit of community: that derives specifically from the online element.

Maybe we just need to reconsider what constitutes ‘community’. In fact, through email and the web and social networking I know people all over the world, and often feel that they are part of that more intimate circle we regard as genuine friends. So on the whole it is my view that the internet, far from destroying the concept of a community, has enhanced it. If it shut down tomorrow, I would feel a great sense of personal loss.

So I feel that we should stop worrying about all the nasty things we fear the internet is doing socially; instead we should embrace it.

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4 Comments on “Online worlds”

  1. Vincent Says:

    ‘Online experience offered by social networking’ reminds me very mush of those little ad’s one was forced to read while making a call in the phone box of yore.
    As to the point, we gain on the distance, but lose on the micro-twitches so much part and parcel of every intimate contact. But how important are those twitches to the communication of those you dined with anyway. What in reality is the difference between t’internet and the letters of the past. Surely, then as now, the problem is for those outside of the network, for the mathematicians are not the only ones with a notation system.

    • Jilly Says:

      you’re quite right Vincent. Most of what is said about online communication could also have been said of written communication (or often telephone as well). In fact what about the telegraph, while we’re at it?

      This kind of ‘analysis’ of the impact of the internet is just lazy and drives me mad. There are so many interesting and worthwhile discussions to be had (and which are being had by informed commentators) about the effects of internet communication, this stuff just reminds me of Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets.

      • Anna Notaro Says:

        The Muppets is quite a funny analogy! Lol
        There is something else worth noting re the Vidcon besides the sense of *real* community it represents, and it’s the fact that some of the Youtube video producers have become, are treated and behave like real *stars*, in other words they enjoy a celebrity status similar to what happens in other fields: cinema, football etc., for scholars in the field they are the ‘last frontier’ of celebrity studies and events like Vidcon a great opportunity for some interesting field work..

  2. Trich Says:

    Ferdinand, I am so pleased your wrote this blog, because I agree with you, on this particular subject. Community is what each human being experiences, whether it be in real life or on the internet. Both work.
    Take for example, your blog. I have no idea in “real life” who you are! What I do know, is that I like, in the main, what you write. I know you don’t sleep much, because you are a prolific night writer.
    I’ve never met Ferdinand in “real life”. But I have a good sense of him from what he writes. I admit, I don’t always fully read what he writes, as I may not be that interest in his subject matter all the time, however, I generally like & enjoy what he writes.
    I have a sense of who Ferdinand is generally & I like what I see in what he writes. That is a type of community, albeit different to the type of community I grew up with. It certainly wasn’t the “Internet Community”, as I am half a century old. Bet you didn’t realise that? Then again, maybe you did?!?
    As far as I am concerned, what is, is. If part of your life is interacting with folk on the internet & that meets a need you have and that fulfills a need, isn’t that wonderful? I love interacting face to face with people too and that meets one of my needs. Community is as individual as each human being is, so why would one type of community be less than another?!? The internet is a different type of community communicating with another. I feel we need to embrace all different types of community whether they be in real life or internet life, aren’t both real? Especially if my own interaction in life and on the internet are being true to who I am as an individual.
    Thank you Ferdinand for writing this blog. Maybe next time at the dinner table you can bring up your own & and your son’s internet experience. It will certainly give a different respective.

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