Virtual Communities

Is the inworld experience any different from real life?

Full Definition of community

plural: communities

  • 1:  a unified body of individuals: as
    • a :  state, commonwealth
    • b :  the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly :  the area itself<the problems of a large community>
    • c :  an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
    • d :  a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons>
    • e :  a group linked by a common policy
    • f :  a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community>
    • g :  a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community>
  • 2:  society at large
  • 3
    • a :  joint ownership or participation <community of goods>
    • b :  common character :  likeness <community of interests>
    • c :  social activity :  fellowship
    • d :  a social state or condition

How does one define a community? If one takes the above Merriam-Webster definition, you can find all sorts of examples that exist both in the human world and in the animal kingdom. Communities require some level of interconnectivity. I really would rather focus on human interactivity though. So, this narrows our view, but also brings into play a new question. Which era of definition do you want to focus on? Prior to the strong interconnectedness that is the internet, people relied upon their local peers.

Communities in these instances involved neighborhoods, or clusters of farms that could call on each other. Communities would stretch across countrysides and include small villages. Sometimes these communities traveled like in the case of tribal societies in the middle east and mongolia, or the american midwest.

These communities were essential to life and existence within the world. There was strength in numbers as our dog compatriots can attest to. Every member of the community served a role. The hunters, the gathers, the caregiver’s, tool makers. Each person contributed to the overall strength and vitality of that community.

If we return to the villages, or towns concept, the roles become more varied, and those people who do them are in greater number. Civilization relies on the sense of community in order to accomplish greater things. In modern times, we even talk of international communities interacting, giving, and receiving ideas and materials.

Our definition of these communities has changed significantly with the introduction of the internet, and that difference can be seen across the generations. Just this thanksgiving, my grandmother in-law was preaching about how children don’t play kick the can, or half-baseball anymore, and that everyone was stuck to their phones. She felt very angry and was obviously disgusted by it.

Take our modern parents, and you discover a whole new aspect. The phone is part of their life style. What interest I have is seeing the generation that grows up now, living with the eternally digitized videos and photos of them growing up as a steady stream of media from their parent’s facebook pages. New ways of interactivity  have changed our view of community and have shifted the idea of where communities are located or if they even have a physicality.

For a time, I spent a great deal of time interacting on the internet. Part of that time involved a program called Second Life. I’ve moderated several forums, co-managed a hosting site, and was a member of every single instant messaging medium available. I had friends from Poland to Australia. I developed networks in the United Kingdom, and Canada.

These experiences are foundational to my view of what communities are. They are groupings of people focused on a particular topic. I would view that any pre-internet society would have a focus on maintaining their city, or surviving the tundra. Since our technology has advanced enough that we no longer have to focus on survival, that our ability to think and imagine became more possible.

Ideas can come from any mind and any place. It is when those ideas are snuffed by the inability to be actualized that we lose that moment of innovation or exchange. Those ideas may lack the resources or materials to become more. The modern communities allow people who have very specific focuses to find each other out, and collaborate. These collaborations can become communities themselves. Each person contributes something of themselves towards the end goal. Even if that goal is to simply share pictures of kittens. There are people who supply pictures of kittens, and then there are the people who view those pictures. This is a community between people.

For a less abstract concept I turn to Second Life. A 3D virtual environment that simulates the real world. People are represented by self designed avatars, and they can interact with each other socially and economically. Second Life is also a builder’s platform in that people can use basic primitives to construct models.The user can then texture and program those models to carry out specific tasks and processes.

These objects can range from simple buttons to cars and houses. Just about everything in the world is created by the user base. In conjunction with this, Second life has an entire economy that has exchange rates comparable to currency with a fee’d ability to convert from Linden dollars to national currency. Where money can be made, people will be found.

Suddenly you have people creating virtual homes, and virtual neighborhoods that the avatars can interact in. There were venues where people could go to interact as well, such as dance clubs, theaters, and role play environments. This created a community that was not locked in by any form of physicality. A person could travel from portion of the world to another with a simple teleport. A person could go anywhere for any reason.

While I do not consider that this is in any way different than that of an online forum. The medium is the only part that changes, and allows for a greater flow of ideas and goods. However, the basic operation of a chat room as opposed to a virtually represented room are no different. What the virtual room does is bridge the two concepts into one associative concept.

One of the above definitions of communities includes the concept that communities are created by a common policy. If you were to look at any online forum, or chat room there are rules that the members must prescribe to. These rules may dictate what is topical in discussions, or how many pictures persons may be able to post. Another forum that I encountered briefly had a policy in which a third of it was made of grammar rule enforcement. Infractions involved warnings, and if grammar was bad enough, users would be banned.

Even Second Life had its rules. Despite the freedom that many users felt and enjoyed within that medium, there were still rules. Some of these rules were not specifically created by Linden Labs, and were created by the communities that exist within the medium. Many of the rules were created by the communities. Many places have boards at their teleport location that showcase that area’s rules and warnings.

Communities grow up around those policies, and those communities will create them simply as the natural order when people begin to gather. The more people that become involved, the more involved the policies become. It is a standard and requirement of any culture, that rules and policies must be created.

The term communities has become something of an outdated if not scientific term used to describe society. Networks has become the term to describe any body of persons associated with each other. I can imagine that the term ‘network’ will eventually eliminate community as a common word. We define our commonality based on interests over location, and are allowed to supply our focus towards that. Networks help to bring genesis to communities. It also allows those communities to find interaction with each other creating larger communities.

So, is there really a difference? I believe that non exists between the physical or virtual communities. There exists between each of them an interchange of ideas and things. People are contributing to a focus and interact in a manner to allow all persons to be able to contribute to that society.  However, it is easy to recognize that the virtual communities are easier to use when only intellectual information is being exchanged. Material transfers are much slower within virtual communities as physical objects must still travel through real space.

Physical communities contribute a much easier transfer of materials, but the materials available are limited to the locality. Connecting with other communities becomes necessary. Physical communities are dependent on each other as much as the people within rely on each other. This reliance forces cooperation and interdependence among all who are participant.

This is a starker contrast with the virtual communities as topics are insular and very focused, and rarely reaches beyond the confines of the medium that community exists within. Infact, if a medium is discontinued, then that community is in essence is destroyed. Virtual communities are dependent on the services that mediate the communications between individuals. This is in direct opposition in that if the medium (homes or cities) are destroyed, the community can still exist.

We can see this latter part in war torn areas of the world such as Aleppo and Syria. Despite heavy conflicts occurring in the areas, communities still interact. School is still being attended and vendors still sell what they can. You can also see it in communities such as the Jewish people, whom have been displaced and persecuted, but the sense of community is enduring.

In conclusion, I can not view many differences between the two forms of communities. I can state limitations that are imposed by the medium itself, but the essential form and function of those communities are essentially the same. The differences presented can be expressed in the form of an algorithm. The greater the physical presence of a community, the more likely physical materials are part of the exchange. The greater the virtual presence of a community, the more likely ideas are part of the exchange. Communities that reside within the Second Life community is still considered virtual, but makes up in virtual goods that give a semi tangible representation of materials. It does still however fall into the pitfall, that if Linden Labs were to go out of business, then all materials within that community would also disappear.

The internet is still finding its footing, and uses. As persons discover how to use the internet to strengthen the communities, old ideas fade as new ones are brought in. As such, the mediums of virtual communities will continue to change until a universally accepted manner is adopted. Until such a time, virtual communities have a greater risk of loss then physical ones, and it is up to the members of those communities to reunite in a new one, should they so choose.

Bibliography

Community. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Lewis H. Lapham. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

“Second Life Official Site – Virtual Worlds, Avatars, Free 3D Chat.” Second Life Official Site – Virtual Worlds, Avatars, Free 3D Chat. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Standage, Tom, and Vinton G. Cerf. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Eggers, David  The Circle. Print

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