I’m not good at online communities. I’m really not. I don’t like the impersonal, cold connection that is the tendency of these communities. I don’t like the way that online communities necessitate sitting in front of a screen for a great deal of your time. I don’t like that it is difficult to communicate in a private fashion on the internet.
That being said, I love a lot of things about online communities. I love that they connect people who would otherwise never have met and who, because of these communities, form deep and lasting bonds. I love that they enable like-minded people to create things that improve the world in profound ways. I love that they provide an outlet for people who do not know how to otherwise let their thoughts and emotions into the world.
I think there is great value in online communities and that they are and should be fundamental constituents of our society now. I also think, however, that we have to be careful with our participation in these communities. I think that it is strictly necessary to not let our entire lives be lived solely in these online communities. Now, that means different things for different people. For some people, this means what I can HEAR teenagers thinking I mean, “Get off that computer sometimes and go outside!”, which, to some degree, I do mean, if only because you are a physical being whose emotional needs often have to be met in physical ways. For some people, this means that their online community meets sometimes in the offline world. I think that this is the most wonderful and amazing thing that the online communities of the world have done. They have taken communities that exist in an abstract and occasionally disorienting way and have made them into a very real, experiential thing. That’s not to say there isn’t value in these communities outside of their physical gatherings, because an online community is just as capable of funding a well in Bangladesh or of developing a science as a physical one, but that these physical gatherings bring a new and maybe even more valuable element to their participants.
And that’s why my love for online communities will always outweigh my dislike for them and while, though I am not good at online communities, I will continue to try.