Before beginning to determine the similarities and differences of the virtual and ‘real-life’ community I believe it is important to identify what a ‘community’ is. The Oxford English dictionary states that a community is “the holding of certain attitudes and interests in common. ” But can this be said for a real-life community? In today’s age it is very difficult to share a common interest with our ‘community’ as although we all live and work together we are still segregated. We no longer trust one another; we lock our doors, put our cars in garages and carry rape alarms in fear of an invasion from our so-called neighbours.
Aaron Davidson states that: “We no longer know our neighbours because our busy stress filled lifestyles do not give us time. ” (Davidson. A, Online Communities vs. Classical Communities, http://spaz. ca/aaron/school/online. html, Accessed 10th Nov 2005) In an online, virtual community we are free from the fear of a physical attack, and it would prove very difficult to steal a person’s car via the Internet. It is for this reason joining a virtual community can be a very uplifting and liberating experience for people.
In an online community we can discuss and share our views with others from the safety and comfort of our homes without fear of a physical or oral disagreement, which is an unsettling experience for anyone in a real-life community. Identity plays a huge role in a virtual community as we can become anybody we want. Online a user does not have to disclose their real name, gender, age, location, physical attributes or sexuality which gets rid of the prejudices people face in every-day, real life. Identity in the virtual community is ambiguous and as stated in the book Web.
Studies: “there is considerable scope for people to reveal secrets, discuss problems, or even enact whole identities which they would never do in the real world. ” (Gauntlett. D/Horseley. R, 2004, Web. Studies 2nd Ed, Arnold Publishing) The above can also be said for those people with a disability or physical disfigurement; online they are the same as everyone else if they chose to be. If they prefer to be honest about their identities they can easily access a plethora of communities filled with people in their situation.
In a real-life community it is often very difficult to meet like-minded people in your circumstances and it is sometimes costly. Although this identity animosity can prove the be a liberating thing for some people it can also be a very bad thing. People with bad intentions can get access to virtual communities with whom they want to cause bother. The internet is also a breeding ground for paedophiles that can pretend to be children and arrange to meet up with children in their area. This is one of the major disadvantages to an online community and is something that is less of an issue in a real-life community.
Attempting to find a person with your interests in the real-life community can prove difficult as communication is often very passive and we as humans are often afraid to ask questions about one another as it is deemed ‘rude’. Sue Boetcher, Heather Duggan and Nancy White say: “Online it is easy to meet someone you share an interest with. Simply go any search engine, type in your hobby and like magic a list appears of places to investigate.
” (Boetcher. B/Duggan. H/White. N, Virtual Communities: What and Why? http://www.fullcirc. com/community/communitywhatwhy. htm, Accessed 15th Nov 2005) For example, say a person is an avid fan of Dr. Who. Their next door neighbour’s interest lies in fast cars and women and their neighbour across the street enjoys bird watching. What can this person do in their real-life community to talk to people who share his enjoyment of Dr. Who? They could look up a local club but this takes time. By looking online they are immediately taken to various places where they can discuss their love of Dr. Who.
This is one major example of how a virtual community does not operate in the same manner as a real-life community. By making a friend in cyberspace with whom you share a common interest is very easy to do in cyberspace even tough in many instances there may never been any physical interaction. This is an ongoing debate in web studies as many people argue that in an online community “the primordial feelings of fear, love and anger cannot be transmitted online” and that “computer mediated communities cannot be as intimate and strong as in social communities.
” (Etzioni. O, 1997, Communities: Virtual vs. Real, Longman) I disagree with this and believe that any social interaction can be beneficial. There are websites set up whereby people can log in and talk to a computer which has been programmed with thousands of responses. Such sites are extremely popular worldwide and people log on to talk to essentially, nobody. However, this is still an invigorating experience and the technology of talking computers is improving. An example of such a website is http://www. oliverbot. com.
Online communities also break down the barriers of chatting with people in other countries. In the traditional community it is hard to find friends worldwide as there are often problems with different languages and beliefs. The online community allows people from all countries to interact and the invention of the online translator gets rid of the any problems faced by people who speak different languages. To state that a virtual community and a real-life community operate the same way would be dangerous because the evidence suggests that they do not.
The online community is a much more open, honest and complicated place to be that the real-life community where we behave how we are supposed to and only discuss things that are socially acceptable. The virtual community allows you to become who you want to be and discuss what you want to and decide with whom you want to discuss.
Bibliography Web. Studies 2nd edition (Gauntlett. D/Horsely. R, 2004, Arnold Publishing) Communities in Cyberspace (Kollock/Smith, 1999, Routledge) Cybersociety 2. 0 (Jones. S, 1998, Sage Publications) Communities: Virtual vs. Real (Etzioni. O, 1997, Longman).