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Online Communities Essay

1828 words - 8 pages

Throughout history a debate has raged on whether sense of community, and more broadly community itself, is crumbling. [INSERT two quotes from early and late doomists] What I see in arguments both for and against the ability for sense of community to persevere is a tangled mess of media. Media play varying roles in arguments both for and against the survival of sense of community, but their presence should not be ignored. In some cases media are blamed for declines in sense of community. In others new media technologies are seen as saviors that can bring about a sense of community rebirth.
More broadly, media are central to communities—their formation, purposes, and means of connecting. ...view middle of the document...

If a group gathers to watch a film, play video games, or discuss a book in person – mediation is still a central characteristic of the community. Most of the alternatives recommended as better than online communities are not the idealized communities that supposedly strengthened our sense of community, where we had the ability to create strong bonds by working, living, and struggling together for long periods of time. Our alternatives are also media-centric. Additionally, all communities have become transient. If community is only present in small areas where people are rooted for generations and therefore accountable and reliant on one another, then there is no community in America other than in poverty-stricken regions where it is impossible to leave. We are a mobile society – both the physical and mediated implications that word brings.
One criticism of the digitally-connected community is that there is no accountability, and if people are not stuck in the situation they will just move on rather than overcome obstacles together. People move out of neighborhoods, cities, and states easily now as well as out of organizations and workplaces. The desire to stay and change things may be what distinguishes strong community from weak, not the inability to leave. Using World of Warcraft as an example, players do feel a sense of responsibility to their fellow players. They do work together to achieve things. They schedule times to meet up and take on challenges. If the ease of abandoning a community is the determining factor of whether its sense of community can be strong, consider that it is equally as simple to not show up to a meeting in person as to no longer do so online. Accountability is not made through physical presence alone.
Interestingly, the dissatisfaction surrounding changing social structures leading to weakened community ties in the physical world are repeated by gamers in the online spaces that were assumed to be free of theses forms of accountability in the first place. T.L. Taylor’s (2006) commentary on the changing game structure within Everquest—from players filling gaps in the game structure such as giving or selling things to one another and creating local vending areas that required proximity and creativity—sounds like that of community in suburban and urban spaces compared to rural. When the game developers updated the system to offer players methods of selling items to one another Taylor (2006) compares the solution to shopping at a mall instead of Main Street. Although she notes that many players think less time is "wasted" and they insist that they still form social networks elsewhere, Taylor (2006) still believes something was lost. "…many of the things that are seen as nuisances or difficulties are exactly the mechanisms that propel the creation of emergent cultures and social networks" (Taylor, 2006, p. 64). This talk of being forced to interact, sometimes in time-wasting and otherwise frustrating ways, is...

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