A Sense of (Virtual) Community... Do
you know your next door neighbors? Do you know who your city council
representative is? Do you know the name of your newspaper
deliverer? ...the owner of the gas station nearest to your home?
...the president of your neighborhood association?...the owner of
the restaurant nearest to your home? If you answered "No"
to all of these questions, then you probably don't have a sense of
community associated with your home's physical location.
One of the many ironies of the technology
revolution is that it provides an enormous increase in the ways in
which we can connect to each other, but the result is often fewer
connections than we enjoyed just a few decades ago. But "a
sense of community" is something that can and does translate
into the world of technology, and there are thousands of examples.
It might be helpful to look at exactly what we
mean by "community," and why it is important. An
examination of the dictionary definition yields some, but not all,
of the characteristics we associate with the idea, including...
- A sense of place. 50 years ago, that
"place" was your neighborhood, your town, your state,
your country. But in the virtual world, a "place" can
be a storage location on a server, and the "sense" can
be an association with a display method, or icon.
- A sense of shared identity. Again,
previously, this would have been largely associated with
"place," but in the age of television, the
"Community of Lakers Fans" extends well beyond the
boundaries of the United States, much less Los Angeles.
- A sense of shared purpose. Community
contributes to who someone is, but it also can contribute to
what s/he does as well. Hence a "community of small
business owners" is used as a way to learn, to improve, to
define what a small business owner does.
A fourth characteristic - the ability to
connect between community members - is not necessary a part of
the dictionary definition, but it makes it possible to talk about "community
building," that process by which we construct the characteristics
of community within a group that is
connected. It is technically possible to talk about the
"community of beret-wears," or the "community of
blondes," but unless this community is connected somehow, it is
unlikely to benefit its members, or anyone else.
idea of community-building translates quite well into the virtual
world. Media which can be used to construct a sense of shared identity
and purpose include email
discussion forums and on-line
threaded forums, both of which are available through the Fayette
County Office of Technology. The "place," of course, is
virtual, but, for some, it is just as real as a VFW meeting hall or
a university student union building.
After two months, the FCPS-TRT-L email
discussion forum (a private forum for Technology Resource Teachers,
Microcomputer Resource Technicians, and Microcomputer Resource
Specialists) has established itself as a viable forum, as well as a
"place," "identity," and "purpose" for
its members See this month's Connections
for an examination of this community.