Virtual Communities Essay

1768 words - 7 pages

The Internet is a potential arena for the creation of an egalitarian society. It allows users to interact in an environment where materialistic possessions and appearance do not play a role. Essentially, there is a potential recreation of one's self. However, the Internet and virtual communities are not always places where there is a sense of equality, nor are all people equally represented. An exploration of virtual communities begins to define some of the inherent contradictions, and complexities that occur within cyberspace.I would suggest that in its most basic form CMC (computer mediated communication) takes on a textual form, where ideas are exchanged through typed prose. To label text as a basic form of communication does not mean that it cannot be a medium for the expression of powerful ideas. The ideas in a haiku, for example, are expressed simply but are robust with imagery and meaning.meteor shower --- a gentle wave wets our sandals Michael Dylan Welch The above haiku is significant because it represents how plain text, whether it is a poem, a letter or email allows the sharing and exchange of ideas. When people share ideas within a chat room, they are at times limited to using text but this does not imply that meaningful ideas, thoughts and emotions cannot be shared and exchanged. In the absence of "˜face to face' communication, people can develop a shared sense of self something akin to the development of community. However, the idea that community can exist in a virtual environment is a contentious issue.Community is an important term to understand, as its different definitions challenge whether a "˜virtual community' can, in fact, exist. Within the New College there are two definitions of community. The first describes community as ""¦a group of people living under the same locality under the same government" (New College Dictionary, p.270). This definition conflicts with the idea of a virtual community where members can be from different parts of the world, and of completely different ideologies. This definition challenges the idea that a sense of community can be developed online. If this is true, a new name, or definition would have to be created to address the phenomenon. The second defintion of community is " . . .a social group having a common interest" (New College Dictionary, p.270). This definition acknowledges that a virtual community can, in fact, be a community.The two different definitions begin to tease out the issues at stake. In some cases a community and virtual community are almost the same thing. In other instances a virtual community is a very different and unique entity.A definition that acknowledges the uniqueness of a virtual community is, ". . .social aggregations that emerge from the internet when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace." (Fernback & Thomson, 1995 page 5). This...

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