I’ve been thinking about the connections and community we develop on the Internet. It is an interesting phenomenon that, as we cocoon ourselves away from human contact, we increase our circle of contacts online. A new sort of community develops, one with advantages and disadvantages.
This online community in which I participate is a positive force. I meet and talk with people I could never otherwise reach; and it enriches my life for the different opinions and experiences to which I am witness. I am instantly taken around the world to see it through others’ eyes.
I understand that it takes a minimum of seventeen hours of time together to develop a sense of community with a group of people. Do you suppose it’s the same on the Internet? There are a number of people on whose blogs I’ve spent that amount of time reading, interacting in the abbreviated fashion of comments. My circle of Internet friends is not static, and we intersect in a series of circles: some friends in common, some not. That makes this community very difficult to define.
Meeting some of my blogger friends has been easier than I expected it to be (being the introvert that I am). In some sense our conversations have started where we left off. Like old friends separated by time and distance, we have a history and a familiarity. But there are blanks in that history, of those times when we aren’t erudite, those awkward silences, times when we interact poorly or just plain disagree. That’s missing from the Web, because we edit the persona we present to the public.
On the other hand, you who read my blog are privy to some thoughts I would find difficult to express verbally; and that imbues an intimacy that discussion alone could not. The best of both worlds is reading each other’s thoughts and experiences and then getting together to talk about them all. That fills in the blanks in both worlds.
Those seventeen hours together give us a sense of belonging which all people crave. We must take care that we don’t lose the connections we have with those in Real Life, reaching for the mirage of perfection on the Internet. Bring them together as best you can, and bridge the communities of your own making. We are at the beginning of a whole new paradigm of what community means, setting new rules of behavior and communication. It’s exciting and potentially dangerous as we navigate unfamiliar straits. Let’s be a beacon to those who follow.