HyperNews Conversations

This page is an attempt to recreate the HyperNews conversations which we had about virtual communities. We are providing this current page in order to preserve these conversations. However, the links and feel of the HyperNews environment will not be represented. This page merely provides the content of our discussions in case the original HyperNews link goes down. This page recreates our conversations about "Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure?" by Jan Fernback and Brad Thompson".

Thoughts on Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? by Jan Fernback and Brad Thompson

Base: Virtual Communities Discussion
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 1996 16:59:53 GMT
From: alscopp@sils.umich.edu (Alaina Scopp)

Jan Fernback and Brad Thompson answered the question I had in relation to Rheingold's Slice of Life article. I was interested in finding out how Rheingold's first real-life meeting with his fellow WELLites went. Apparently the meeting was a success, since Rheingold "has attended weddings, births, and funerals of his fellow WELL community members", according to Fernback and Thompson. This leads me to a related question: in what ways can virtual community ties affect one's "real" life?

More thoughts on "Thoughts on VC's: Abort, retry..."

Base: Virtual Communities Discussion
Re: Thoughts on Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? by Jan Fernback
and Brad Thompson (Alaina Scopp)
Date: Mon, 01 Apr 1996 01:33:10 GMT
From: plefr@umich.edu (Paul Lefrak)

Alaina asks a good question: "in what ways can virtual community ties affect one's 'real' life?" I liked the article by Fernback and Thompson because I felt as though it helped provide a theoretical framework to begin to examine questions like the one Alaina raises. They state: "With the introduction of CMC, these traditional forms of mediated communication [newspapers, radio, television, telephone -PL] will lose some portion of the public's attention. More than anything, time is a zero-sum game. Thus, the people who will make up the virtual communities will be the better educated, the financially endowed and those with time to commit to communication tasks. That presents a rather limited version of opportunities for building community in any real sense. It also placed limits on the potential for virtual communities to represent anything new within the multiplicity of publics that comprise the American collectivity." I would agree with that statement. In a sense, CMC's are creating a narrow version of community that are rather exclusive. A common theme throughout the article is one which looks at the contradictory phenomenon in which our society is increasingly being fragmented by differences in culture, interest, etc. (they use the word "atomized" which I think is an accurate description), yet at the same time within these various multiplying parts of the whole, it could be argued that individual "communities" are being created within each one. Where virtual communities fit into all this seems to be that for one thing, there is a tendency for CMC's to tie together people within these various communities (the political Right uses the term "special interest groups" by which they mean anyone who isn't a rich white male but that's a whole other discussion...) whereby communication is better achieved within these various sub-cultures or ideological groupings, but on the other hand, there is also a tendency for CMC's to exacerbate socio-economic divisions within these very communities (gaps between the information haves and have-nots within each grouping) and to undermine other more traditional aspects of community (neighborhood, workplace ties) because we're all spending more time in front of our computers. I guess this in some ways gets at our seeing CMC's as both a unifying and divisive tool simultaneously.

On the article itself: what I really liked about it was that it framed all the relevant social questions (good for the critical theory group as well to read perhaps... ) and in that way provides a good "jumping off point" for further discussions. I think they attempted to be somewhat more balanced than the starry-eyed visions of a Rheingold, but not as bleak and pessimistic as some of the authors they reference. I appreciated how the article examined the issues using sociological and political theory, but also tied this into issues of social psychology in examining the dichotomy between the public and private spheres and looking at interpersonal issues with how people communicate (body language, etc.).

Another question to ponder (or we could continue with present thread... how we go off on various tangents is an issue to look at in VC's and with our use of HyperNews...) is the question posed by Fernback and Thompson: "Perhaps these failures [PL: of present and past technologies to create a just and equitable society] should prompt us to re-examine why we continue to place so much hope in technology after so many disappointments. Ultimately, we [the authors] believe, the hope placed in CMC is misplaced because change will occur not be altering technology but by reforming the political and social environment from which that technology flows." Putting aside for a moment the question of whether it will take reform or more radical revolutionary change to fundamentally alter society, we might want to discuss whether or not ultimately these questions are socially driven or technologically driven.

This document was created and is maintained by the Virtual Communities group in Howard Besser's ILS 604 class (Winter 1996).