The Conflated Myth of Online Community

Leo lives alone in a fairly progressive area.

He goes to work, comes home and has a craft beer.  He watches TV.  On weekends, he heads to the local watering hole and drinks with people he knows but most of these people are Libruls and highly educated.  Leo is conservative and is reminded of it in his daily interactions.  He is reminded of it when he thinks of a joke he wants to tell.  He is reminded of it when he watches the television and sees women dressed in almost nothing but would shame him for noticing.  He feels it is his right to carry his AR-15 to Wal Mart but is afraid of someone videoing him and putting it online.

Leo is angry most of the time.

Then he decides to get internet access.  And he finds so many more people that feel the same way as he does in areas where there are far more like him than in his remote area.  He "likes" their status posts about the "way" America has gone and the evils of the Progressive agenda.  He retweets their tweets about the things that make him feel that others understand what is like to be him in America.

Leo feels he has found a community.

The problem with this scenario is that this community he has found, like countless other cyber-communities, is that people are not one issue creatures.  Change Leo to a black man, an Asian man, a woman, a lesbian, a Muslim, any imaginable label we can create for him and it will be the same.  He will connect with a digital reality and, when he finally meets with the high-minded people he finds simpatico with, he will discover that they are...

...human beings.

They are the filmmaker who did a documentary about Ferguson for charity only to change his mind when it became obvious he could make some money off of it.
They are the woman who becomes a poster child for misandry only to chuck it all when she meets and falls in love with the most beautiful man she's ever seen.
They are the anti-capitalist who owns an iPhone.

They are the flawed human beings who hide behind the illusion created by digital media.

One (of many) complications we have to grapple with is the idea that who we are online is who we are in life.  Online personas are curated reveals.  Doppelgängers of who we actually are.  Masks.

Fortunately, we rarely meet these flawed human beings behind our screens.  Leo never goes out of the city and meets his 'community' so he never has to see them for the people writing the posts.  He feels supported when he writes online that he thinks affirmative action is unfair to whites and a host of his community agree with him.  And the illusion is safe.  

Here's the key to community: FACE TIME and PROXIMITY.

Communities are created and maintained by common ideas, sure.  They are cemented by location and common day-to-day interest.  Every actor who has ever been in a show understands what a temporary community feels like.  You do a show and during the time you rehearse and perform the run, it feels like family.  And then on to the next show and the next family.

Long term meaningful communities require long term commitment.  The acceptance of the flaws of our fellow humans.  Time spent in person so those flaws are gradually revealed and are seen in context with our own.

You want community?  Get offline.

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