One of the less advantageous by-products of a trip back to the UK is that it tends to find me smoking again, and not in a ‘cor look at him go’ sense but more in the traditional, smelly and slightly dysfunctional one. However, one of the by-products of this is that I spend much more time outside, seem to have far better conversations, chill out a fair bit, indulge my rebellious side and actually get round to reading papers that usually get stacked up waiting for that ‘spare moment’ which (a.) never really arrives and (b.) if it does tends to do so for about 2 minutes before my terrible attention span has me checking the RSS feeds again or fiddling with any one of the million things the web allows me to distract myself with.
So, you can put it down to the cigs that I just had the opportunity to plough through another excellent Ulises Mejias draft, Social agency and the intersection of communities and networks. And to be honest, if it works for you I’d recommend grabbing a pack and giving yourself 20 minutes too!
It’s an excellent development on his other articles, re-approaching nearness and movable distance (if you haven’t read these, grab a coffee and have another ;) and explores the muddled reality of networks and communities as compared to the absolutist perceptions of them and their relation to the ‘real’ world as Borgmann and Dreyfus would have it.
“Online experiences are indeed no substitute for the ‘real’ thing: allowing computer code to assume a large degree of social agency does sever ontological ties to the offline world. But code can also assume social agency that affords ontological nearness in different (and potentially enhancing) ways. Clearly, as numerous seemingly contradictory studies demonstrate, virtuality can be a site for both alienation and engagement, anomie and identity formation, commodification and commitment. The social agency of code can augment the social agency of humans in powerful new ways, and the challenge is to design systems which integrate the two in ways that encompass online and offline spheres of action.”
He goes on to look at the differences, overlaps and fractalisation between networks and communities, different types of involvement, participants and action that can occur in these contexts and the relationship between the on and offline… but my favourite bit (and I know this is a spoiler) is at the end when it is put quite simply that:
“There is no such thing as a virtual community. All communities are Real.”
“When communities and networks begin to intersect online and offline, and when this is accompanied by an education that emphasizes our responsibilities in the world and the possible ways to fulfil those obligations, we see that anomie decreases and relevancy increases, and with it the potential for a better world. “
Which helps me realise – disheartened as it’s easy to get sitting on your own in a sparse open plan office spending the vast majority of your time staring at a screen – that there is actually a purpose behind all of this, there is a real and commendable point.