The internet has a lot of buzzwords. When it comes to websites where we hang out with other people, we’ve taken to calling them “communities.” The “communities,” (comment section), have an intriguing aspect: most have some level of comment policy that establishes a shared ethic of conversation. One site even calls it a “community comment covenant.” Consonantal alliteration anyone?
We talk a lot about creating “real community” on the internet, the 21st century parallel to neighborhoods or church groups or common-interest groups that we interact with in real life. I know a lot of people that advocate about how important so many of these online communities are, how they foster real relationships and strengthen people through the process. As a rule I don’t disagree. I have seen some incredible communities take place that have been fostered and curated via the internet. But, it seems, the ones that thrive have moved to an in-person connection. That is what makes the virtual-only communities so suspect.
Quitting is painless. All it takes is clicking on “please close my account” and boom, you’re gone. Or maybe you have to send an email to support. Five minutes and it’s over. Now try applying that to an in-person community. Can you move out of your house in five minutes? I haven’t known anyone who can.
If we truly believe that online communities have the capacity to parallel in-person communities, treat them like it. Don’t give up when it gets a little frustrating. I have seen great lasting communities like Icrontic.com that last through years of change, but so many web communities are plagued by quick-to-leave participants every time someone says or does something they don’t like.
We use the internet to say unbelievable things to each other that we would never see fit to say in person. It is, frankly, obnoxious and speaks poorly for our humanity. I hope, HOPE, we can get to a point where our internet discourse can be more humane.
If we are committed to participating in a group of people, online or off, we ought to place a bit more value in those people and spaces. I’m in favor of online community. It fosters growth, challenges us, and can spill over into our offline lives in powerful ways. We ought to take advantage of it in healthy ways.