COMMUNICATING IN VIRTUAL
Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.
—Anthony J. D'Angelo
Once upon a time, when people spent their evenings chatting on their front porches, folks knew what made a community. The romanticized community consisted of tree-lined roads like “Main Street, ” buildings like “McNamara's Drug Store, ” and, most importantly, people like your next-door neighbors, the “MainStreet, ”
In more recent times, chatting is still a popular pastime, but many people's conception of what makes a community has changed. A community might now consist of a data-laden Information Superhighway, pharmaceutical advice is dispensed on an electronic bulletin board, and the neighbor you feel closest to could be half a world away in Australia.
Despite the distances that can separate them, people have an intrinsic need for community. Consider the invention of the Walt Disney Company's idealized community of Celebration in central Florida or a film such as 1998's Pleasantvine. Both of these nostalgic re-creations are reminiscent of a simpler time, when community was easier to define. Yet the introduction of computer-mediating technologies has challenged many of the concepts and definitions people have long taken for granted, including that of community. As such, people who use CMC technologies and people who study them are aware that the Internet fosters relationships not just between two individuals, but among many, many more people.
The desire for community seems to be particularly relevant in recent years, as civic engagement has been on the wane. In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert D. Putnam (2000) outlined how over the last third of a century people living in the United States have grown less likely to participate in civic organizations like service groups, churches, and bowling leagues. This shift away from the more substantial amounts of participation just a generation earlier can be explained in part by urban sprawl (people are moving farther and farther away from their communities) and in part by television's privatization of leisure time, as well as other factors. In sum, it leads to a climate where people feel detached from their geographic communities and leaves them searching for a sense of belonging in other forums.