Define Community…Has The Internet Actually Made Us More Connected?
When thinking about the term community and what it is culturally seen as, there are many varying definitions that we could use in the post-modern/digital age. There is, of course, the basic definition which is “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. However, there is much more that goes into a community other than our physical locations due to our access of a seemingly infinite internet. This definition, however, is more relevant to the pre-modern and modern era’s due to the spacial bias forms of media. The only form of human connection was within your geographical areas, however, now, many people have connections all over the world through electronic media and platforms.
One way to define the pre-modern and modern era is through the term coined in the text, by Vincent Miller, called Gemeinschaft which is, “all of the people in locality broadly shared a common fate and were therefore disposed to each other practically and emotionally”(185). This was considered the most common form of any social relationship that occurred when life revolved around oral, scribal, or print media. The only way to gather or receive information was through others within your physical community who also shared the same dialect. Nowadays, we have many different languages, but they have become much more uniformed and widespread so that individuals can now speak and understand each other regardless of their physical locations. Gemeinschaft is seen throughout the preindustrial times, in the 1700’s, where your relationship would be built off emotion, interdependence, and kinship.
The shift from the pre-modern to modern era came with a wave of new inventions and new forms of communication that strengthened our interpersonal relationships. The radio, newspapers, and television all were important factors of the industrial revolution that also created more factory jobs and new ways to meet and socialize with people. Your community could now be extended to who you work with, who you lived near, and who was listening to the same radio/news stations as you. This is all related to Gesellschaft which is the term defined as “the context of individualized social action in which ties between people are rational and calculated, as opposed to natural and emotional”(185). These types of relationships were different than the pre-modern era because they were a choice and were seen as a formal contract with others due to transactions of information or services. During this time period, the invention of cars and trains created a new way of experiencing the country and, therefore, fostering relationships with new people creating new communities.
This new found form of community truly expanded our horizons and left Americans with the ability to venture into new places and create new communities that they took part in for pleasure. The idea of our nation becoming its own community was once unheard of due to spacial biases, but now, Miller suggests it is an imagined community due to the fact, “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their community”(187). This directly relates to our lives now, living in the post-modern era, because we do not necessarily have to personally know each other to trust in each other and form communities, such as the ones we create online. We have rid our culture of time and space bases by allowing the internet to create various communities through our social media platforms. This, however, yields the question: are we now more connected and communal, or more disconnected and individual?
Online networked communities are a staple to our societies in America today. We are conditioned to “friend”, “like”, “re-tweet”, and “poke” each other as a form of social capital that is only present online. The term networked individualism is mentioned in the text that is described as, “the rise of networking as explicit and increasingly systematic method of making contacts and improving social relations”(199). This is to say that we no longer have to know people personally in order to connect and make communities amongst each other. On social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter, we have many weak ties with our “friends” and “followers” that we have gained throughout our lives. My Facebook page was created in middle school and now, ten years later, I have obviously met new people and created new bonds with individuals I have met in my life. These original Facebook friends I had since 6th grade are still connected with me, but our ties are very weak due to the fact we are moving, getting older, and changing as people. The reason we continue to have these “friends” follow us is for the social capital that we receive by keeping these networks open. Without online communities, we would lack the sense of real world communities because they are not seen as often due to the invention of the internet.
There is no sense of disconnect or isolation when we think about our world today because of how easy it is to access each other on social media. To revert back to the question I posed earlier, are we actually creating more community and connectedness through these platforms? In my opinion I would say I feel more connected than ever to my social groups and communities because of the ease of access to these people online. Not only can I connect with thousands of people at a time, but I can also find new people all over the world that I could never do without the internet. For example, I watch YouTube channels that follow people’s lives around that focus on lifestyle, fashion, and food. These people do not know me specifically, yet, I feel a personal connection with them and their fan base because we are apart of the same community. We do not know each other personally, nor do I know where they live or who they are as people, but we all share the common connection of logging on and clicking the same channel week-to-week and supporting someone we find entertaining and interesting. This type of imagined community is very prevalent in all of our lives and makes connection and community feel more attainable without the limits of our geographical locations.