Bullshit Oops, I can't say that.

This is one of those times I wish Doc Searls had comments. He posts this morning about Ulises Ali Mejias’ rant on how technology is actually bad for the concept of community and that online “interaction” isn’t really interaction at all. Always the gentleman, Doc tries to be nice, and I encourage you to go on over and read it.

Mejias’ writing is essentially a modernist intellectual rant about the cultural evils of a liberal web. While I do think it’s important to consider the potential downsides of cyber “life” compared to real “life,” categorizing life this way is a slippery slope.

…the kinds of sociality that these “virtual communities” prescribe are actually more aligned with the dynamics of a mass than with a community.

Masses are not sites of rich social interaction. Masses foster an alienated form of individualism, making it difficult for people to come together meaningfully. Because of their large numbers, masses may give the appearance of robust communities, but a closer look reveals that people feel irreparably alone in a mass.

The problem here is that the logical modernist mind enters the equation, and sense isn’t made of anything postmodern, including the concept of tribes. I completely reject the theory that the web destroys community and invite Mr. Mejias to examine the local blogosphere in Nashville as an example.

The web, with its associative links, is a deconstructionist machine, and this is (and should be) frightening to the institutional status quo. In that sense, it DOES destroy community, but let’s not stop there. Let’s look at what it is about “community” that it’s destroying, because maybe, just maybe, that needs destruction.

It’s not liberal versus conservative. It’s about the failure of modernist institutionalism.

Comments

  1. Mejias’ observations, I think, are of someone who’s seeing a transition–and the transition *is* troubling in many ways. Communities and families are more atomized because so many don’t know the proper balance for integrating technology–and there are loads of groups from utopian tech-geeks to dystopian rightwingers who aren’t helping the dialogue all that much…

    Doc’s piece, though, points out something quite interesting–the community that’s formed around BlogHer. I’m part of that community (although at times it’s a bit mommy-centered and west coast-y) and I think that particular community functions the way it does because it is headded by women, whose communication style, even on blogs, is far different from men’s. If one reads many of the wome’s blogs, the content is quite intimate–something lacking in most men’s blogs (and the blogs of many women looking to boost their professional profiles.) We build community thru personal intimacy–not necessarily thru objective linking to information and hardcore analysis. BlogHer evolved because women’s voices were (and often still are) vastly under-represented in many corners of the blogosphere.

    Why? Because we choose to talk about our personal lives as well as about our business/professional concerns. Because that’s what helps us get to know one another better. And because there are a scant few men who will link to us because of the ways in which we communicate. We are often "too personal" for so many to take us seriously (this is why I keep two separate blogs–long story I won’t elaborate on)

    This, however, is not to say that women are perfect–there’s lots of negatives, too. But women have a better sense of building community in this bizaare communication channel called the internet beause they choose to share more than just the facts.

    It’s funny, too, how when we gather at BlogHer, we seem to know one another already. It’s a far more "warm, fuzzy" gathering than most of the conferneces I’ve attneded, and demonstrates what lots of folks know about communicating on the ‘net–it’s great, but doesn’t take the place of face to face for getting the true sense of community.

  2. Tish, I have discovered this same sense of connection in the Nashville blogosphere. It IS a real community. Thanks.

  3. Tish, there’s definitely something about gender and communication styles that is worth analyzing. Take Terry’s post: his approach is to dismiss my argument by calling it bullshit and reducing it to quotes which are presented out of context, without showing much sign of actually having taken the effort to understand my larger point before attacking it. I guess that corroborates your opinion about us males.

    Terry, I’ve never claimed that there are no online communities. I need no invitation to examine this or that thriving online community because I belong to some of them myself. The point of my work is rather to study the formation of these new types of sociality in the context of increasing commodification and degradation of what used to be known as ‘the public’ into a mass (surely, an expert in Post Modernism such as yourself might have encountered similar arguments in Lyotard, Baudrillard, Zizek, etc.) Left to its own devices, the social agency of code has a bias towards commodification and massification, not because of the technology per se or because people are unable to form some sort of connection online, but because of the social and cultural contexts which determine a technology’s affordances. In other words, the same technology that facilitates thriving online communities also engenders ‘digital cocoons’ (for just one example, see http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/200605/kt2006052316495668040.htm). Forgive me for suggesting that we should take a closer look at this phenomena.

  4. I’m sorry, Ulises, but I simply disagree with you.

    I think it is absolutist and therefore modernist to even make the statement that the social agency of the internet is code. WTF? I believe the Nashville blogosphere will prove any of your theories nonsense, because it is as genuine a community as exists anywhere. I’ve nothing against your research but understand that, from my perspective, academic research is the least open-minded of any, because there are preset assumptions and theories that are being "proven" during the process. Digital cocooning? My experience doesn’t mesh with what I’ve read about that, and I think it’s just another attempt to make logical and rational (the modernist gods) sense out of that which we don’t understand, so that we can prove to ourselves that we’re okay. What happens when people meet first at core and later in person? Sometimes magic; sometimes tragedy. Isn’t that simply life?

    Now if you want to talk about why some people find themselves more comfortable online than in person, that’s another matter. But don’t create a new dysfunction in the process. We already have enough of those. Why do these people feel rejected by the culture? That would be interesting.

    My views of postmodernism are largely practical and not so much theoretical, because I believe that theory leads to tail-chasing in the effort to turn it into a grand narrative of one form or the other. If that’s not your goal, then I apologize sincerely for dissing what I read in Doc’s post.

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