Communities Exist in Cyberspace
by John December
You'd think I were crazy if I suggested that the set of people using telephones world-wide constituted a community. You'd point out that national telecommunications agencies, such as the FCC in the United States, work to insure--or at least give the appearance of assuring--fairness in access, pricing, and accessibility. To say that the set of all telephone users constitutes a "community" is like saying that toasters foster a brotherhood/sisterhood of bagel eaters.
People online have demonstrated a keen ability to pursue relationships, create artifacts rich in meaning, and take part in complex online interactions. The resulting fabric of human activity gives rise to social practices. And these social practices give rise to affinities, preferences, and all the chaos that people create in their activities and expressions.
For many of those accustomed to online communication, these social bonds may seem obvious. They are formed from communication that may be as casual as conversations on the bus, in a hallway, or on the street corner. You might never think that this kind of communication would need protection.
But online communication depends on a technological medium for its existence. So it is no surprise that the existence of online communities is made most apparent precisely when threats to the integrity of the online medium occur. For example, the users of America Online brought a lawsuit against that online service because they could not access their accounts. The recent case of the United States Congress attempting to limit free speech rights also raised howls of protest from Internet users.
The key, then, is self-awareness and self-organization: the stubborn tendency of people to exploit the online medium so that it becomes part of their way of protesting. This demonstrates to me that online communities do exist and that there is meaning to the word Netizen.
Copyright © 1997 by John December. All Rights Reserved.