I’ve been reading John Taylor Gatto lately, and one of his points is interesting to me from the perspective of social media. His claim about schools is that they’re dehumanizing (deliberately). He claims that many of our institutions (and he means more than schools, but groups, organizations, etc) are really networks, not communities, and can’t provide the nurture we need from others: “Networks do great harm by appearing enough like real communities to create expectations that they can manage human social and psychological needs.”
This got me thinking about social media, and how often we call them online communities, but the question is: are they really? At the same time, Marcia Conner was asking for examples of how someone’s Twitter/Facebook (T/FB) comments have changed your opinion of them. Personally, I have to say that, in general, the extra ‘human’ bits that show through in T/FB have fleshed out some people I haven’t met and now want to.
Blogs tend to be more formal (tends, mind you), while Twitter and Facebook cross the boundary into informal. LinkedIn and Ning networks that I’ve participated in professionally are just that, professional. And maybe then not worthy of being called communities? What’s critical in making the transition from network to community? Certainly people will help one another out (Tony Karrer talks about how he uses networks to ask questions), but you might not ask for help on a personal issue there. Or would you?
Your mileage may vary, of course. So two questions: is there a difference between a community and a network, and is it important? And, if so (and I’m not certain, but leaning to the answers being yes and yes), should we keep them separate, have different ones for either, and can we have real community virtually? I’m inclined to believe that you can have real community online, but it’s not the same as a network, and that may not be a bad thing. You have to work with lots of people, but only with some of them will you want to share your problems, beliefs, and values. It’s the latter that’s a community. And while networks are valuable, communities are precious.