I recently commented on another writer's blog about abuse of social networking websites. Some of my comment was tongue in cheek, but the whole thing got me thinking about the phenomenom of virtual communities.
My day job is with the federal government, and many know that the feds are currently wrestling with what to do about social networking web sites. I was in a meeting not too long ago and several of the older participants expressed strong reservations about using interactive web sites to communicate.
The prevailing mood among many who oppose such sites is that it degrades our ability to communicate or interact with each other. I have given a lot of thought to this and have come to the conclusion that it doesn't hold water. We have been forming communities of like-minded individuals since our cave-dwelling ancestors. How we go about forming them has changed as the communications technology has changed. The Internet-based communities simply represent another step forward in our ability to communicate.
All of the complaints about web-based social networking sites (virtual communities) can be applied to physical communities - a fact that naysayers conveniently ignore. Predators stalk back alleys just as voraciously as they do chat rooms. Scam artists have been bilking the naive long before the Internet. So, what's the beef?
The web sites offer advantages that I believe far outweigh any negatives. I was an active free lance writer throughout the 70s and 80s, but over time had become moribund, and had almost stopped entirely. When I was introduced to Red Room, the contact with so many talented (and active) writers got my own juices flowing again. It would have been virtually (no pun intended) impossible to establish this kind of physical network for me because I travel too much. Thanks to the Internet, I have ready access to a host of like-minded individuals from whom I can learn and be inspired.
Getting along in cyberspace is just like getting along in the physical world. It requires that we be able to think about something other than ourselves; it requires a bit of policing of the members of the community; and it requires education of the community members.
Virtual communities are the wave of the present - I don't say future, because the pace of technological change could make it an obselete statement before I hit 'submit.' Rather than rail against them, we need to embrace them. They don't need to replace our physical contacts. They can exist alongside them. We are all members of different physical groups depending upon our interests and situation. We can be members of physical and virtual groups without either impacting negatively upon the other as well.
Causes Charles Ray Supports
The Nature Conservancy
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial