Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Online community

I had an intriguing conversation at lunch with a couple of people who were lamenting the demise of the sit on your stoop and talk to your neighbors kind of community. I'm doubtful that that ever really existed and think that it might a romantic pre-modern notion of what life was like at some point in the past. I protested that I felt I had quite an online community that I enjoy being a part of and that it somewhat substitutes for not being close friends with my neighbors. After all, I said, the only thing I really have in common with my neighbors is that we live near each other. I said that online, I can find like-minded people to converse with.

Someone suggested that maybe it was a good thing to converse with people you may not have that much in common with. That's true, and it's not like I shun my neighbors. Just this past Saturday, we sat on our neighbors' porch and drank a couple of glasses of wine together. And during the school year, we all chat at the bus stop together. I suspect that my online friends are as diverse if not more so than my neighbors.

It made me see a gap opening up between those that long for some romantic past vs. those who embrace new ways of imagining community. I like face-to-face communities and I regularly interact with people face-to-face, but I also get a lot out of whatever you call this group of blogs I regularly interact with. I think it's somewhat a failure of imagination to not be able to see how one could get something out of interacting online. And it doesn't have to be a complete substitution, just like MTV doesn't substitute completely for radio or the internet for tv new. It can be a both/and world, but as so often is the case, people immediately jump to the zero-sum game.

I think the people around me thought that I was a little odd and maybe felt a little sorry for me, thinking that I didn't have any friends or something. Then again, I don't regularly hear about lots of dinner parties or sitting out on the stoop and chatting with neighbors from these people. Perhaps they're longing for something in their own past and not just a collective past.