How Virtual Communities Impact Society - Some Thoughts:

From our group brainstorm of Feb. 16

  • Does it foster more of a voice for people not normally heard in other contexts? And if so, who hears that voice? Does it matter?
  • It has been argued that virtual communities "bring together" people separated by geography. Is this true?
  • Since access to electronic virtual communities is dependent on economic privileges, is it a representative community?
  • The lack of access to virtual communities is in part a self-selective process. People will only join online communities that they are interested in. Is that overall a positive development, a negative one, or both? Does it foster increased fragmentation and alienation in our society?<
  • It can be easily argued that online virtual communities foster the quick dissemination of information. But is that information always complete? Is it authoritative? Or are virtual communities also contributing to the spread of misinformation?
  • Are virtual communities leading to a two-tier society of information haves and information have-nots?
  • Are there a multitude of layers within virtual communities depending on the techinical skill level of participants? Depending on the access to other sources of information? What are the implications for this in the so-called "Age of Information"?
  • Does the commitment of time in virtual communities detract from time that would be spent in "real" communities? Does it cause increased introversion? Does it take from other activities? If so, what is the social impact of this?
  • Is there an expectation within virtual communities of a "rapid response"? Are people always expected to be constantly in touch with one another? How does this impact virtual communities and the overall pace of life?
  • Is access to technology considered by some to be a status symbol? Does that affect the content of their participation in virtual communities?
  • Are class lines or other social boundaries blurred between participants in virtual communities? Do virtual communities lead to increased understanding between participants from different backgrounds, or is that an illusion? Is it a tool for greater tolerance, or is there an effect of increased homogenization and assimilation?
  • Are there unwarranted assumptions about the backgrounds of other participants being made by members of a virtual community who come from dominant social positions? If so, what are they?
  • What about people who are differently abled or might be considered physically unattractive according to the dominant norms of our society? Do virtual communities lead to increased self-esteem or greater access to socializing and interpersonal communication?
  • Do virtual communities place an undue emphasis on these communication skills?
  • Are virtual communities are substitute for a "real" meeting of people or organizations? What is lost? What is gained?
  • How have the new electronic technologies altered - if at all - our style of communication?

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