The Virtual Community

I enjoyed Howard Rheingold's "The Virtual Community," as an interesting take on online communities from an individual who has formed deep bonds in one. Rheingold speaks enthusiastically about online communities, and has great visions for it s societal implications. He writes, "I have written this book to help inform a wider population about the potential importance of cyberspace to political liberties and the ways virtual communities are likely to change our experience of the real world, as individuals and communities."

For me, his most interesting take, was describing his experience attending a meet-up party for members of his online community, WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link).

"I looked around at the room full of strangers when I walked in. It was one of the oddest sensations of my life. I had contended with these people, shot the invisible breeze around the electronic watercooler, shared alliances and formed bonds, fallen off my chair laughing with them, become livid with anger at some of them. But there wasn't a recognizable face in the house. I had never seen them before."

Although Rheingold found these communities very important to him, he does not view them as a replacement for physical connectedness, but instead as something that will have physical world implications. He notes the differences, "People in virtual communities do just about everything people do in real life, but we leave our bodies behind. You can't kiss anybody and nobody can punch you in the nose, but a lot can happen within those boundaries."

As someone who actively participates in a online community, he contributes the draw to a, "hunger for community that grows in the breasts of people around the world as more and more informal public spaces disappear from our real lives." For him, these communities are an as extensions of real life, not a different life. I found his interjecting of comments by his young daughter very symbolic. Rheingold has a physical life and a virtual one, and that is how I think he would describe people in such communities.