Some time ago, in some towns and villages, women used to sit outdoors with chairs they had brought from their own home and they would knit for their families. In between trained wrist and finger movements, they would talk about their fears, hopes and dreams.

Although this affair is still active in some places, there’s Ravelry now, a community site on anything related to knitting and crochet.

Social Media has facilitated the creation of communities based on their chosen interests rather than their location. So, now a Spanish outdoor knitting devotee can exchange views and ideas about his/her passion with someone from Peru or Iceland.

Geography doesn’t divide us anymore.

Here is a tiny sample of some Social Media networks that help shape communities globally (all of them have more than 1 million users):

BUSUU: for people who love languages, no matter which one.

BLACKPLANET: to keep Afro-Americans connected, no matter which Country they live in.

BUZZNET: for music and pop music lovers.

CAFEMOM: for mothers who want to exchange impressions.

COUCHSURFING: to travel cheap and connect with the local community.

DEVIANTART: for art lovers.

ENGLISH, BABY!: for English as a second language students and professors.

FETLIFE: for people who are into BDSM.

GOODREADS: for book lovers.

REDDIT: to comment on and share links on everything social.

VAMPIREFREAKS.COM: for people who love Goth and Industrial subculture.

Social Media platforms have reinforced our sense of “belonging” and it helps us develop and expand our identity as we have discovered that there are other people that can be as obsessive as we are on certain topics. Nobody is strange on the Internet and no one is alone.

People with socialization problems who can feel marginalized in the tangible world can learn to connect with other people through these platforms. By testing their opinions and their “voice” online and realizing these are well accepted, their confidence can be reinforced in a way that couldn’t be otherwise.

Still, Social Media has a double use with issues like suicide and this can’t be overlooked. On one hand, people with suicidal tendencies can reach many forums in which they can talk to people with their same issues and find support through them while; on the other hand, there have been multiple suicide pacts arranged through online forums. It’s very possible that if these people had not found each other through these community sites they wouldn’t have found the strength to finish their lives.

That said, one of the great achievements of bringing communities together through Social Media is that it has given a lot of strength to minorities. The rights of a community are more efficiently protected when this one is united and can transmit information to all the members in an effective manner. An article on The Washington Post from this last September explains how young people from socioeconomic minorities is mobilizing and becoming more political through Social Media, “it’s not true that the rich are getting richer online, as some have suggested. We find, rather, that those with more limited resources use digital media to learn, to speak out, and to amplify their voices”.

Besides uniting us, Social Media provides us with a lot of flexibility in our lives, which is something we demand with increasing persistence. We demand flexibility to belong to something but we also demand the freedom to leave it any time we want. We demand flexibility to be faithful to one single community and freedom to belong to many if we so wish. Flexibility to belong until we decide not to. The Liquid Modernity author, Zygmunt Bauman, states, “Unlike ‘real relationships’, ‘virtual relationships’ are easy to enter and to exit. They look smart and clean, feel easy to use, when compared with the heavy, slow-moving, messy real stuff”. This flexibility is what’s more attractive of these communities. Without ties or responsibilities, there’s only profit.

The communities we belong to are one of the factors that affect our constantly evolving identity the most. The people who we socialize with, those who we share our worries with, as well as our dreams and secrets, the people we exchange knowledge and share our interests with: those are the people who help us shape our identity.

That in order to have a balanced life it’s important to build communities offline as well as online, that’s more than obvious. But people’s identity can be strengthen when they realize that everywhere in the world there are people with their shared interests, tastes, rarities, worries and problems.

SocialHola — Barcelona, España