Community is not just where you live, it’s how you live with other people.”
-Tommy Rueff, Happen, Inc.
Spring has merged into summer and, unlike our gardens, my blog has been dormant. I have been waiting for some inspiration to hit me. For a few weeks I have been considering the different communities I “belong” to, and what they mean to me.
After our family, where we live – neighborhood, apartment building, town, city is our “default” community. We can choose to be involved, or not, but we are naturally part of them because of where we live. In these busy days and lifestyles of screens and long work hours, few of us really know our neighbors well or connect on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean if you run out of sugar, your car breaks down, or you just want to sit on the porch and share a bottle of wine, that the neighborhood isn’t there for you … we still keep an eye out for each other even if we don’t know each other as well as we would like to, living next door, across the street or down the block.
When my kids were younger, the school community was a central part of our lives. The families we saw every day, at every school event, were top of mind and an important part of our life. As time has moved on, our children have grown, and, no longer top of mind, the school community and friends we connected with regularly are out of sight and out of mind. I miss that built-in, easy and fun community almost as much as I miss those cute young people before they became teenagers (although I enjoy the teenagers most of the time). What the school community had, that the neighborhood in general does not automatically offer (outside of HOAs and neighborhood associations), is a common interest/bond. Once that bond is broken after your child moves on to another school or graduates, your connection to that community often dissolves.
For me, the evolution of my community affiliations has reflected the progression of my life. Now that my children are older and more independent, I am once again focusing on my career, professional and personal development. In my personal life, my daily fitness is very important. I enjoy connecting with a number of fitness communities for running, biking and boot camp. The support and camaraderie of these communities is important not only for physical fitness, but for emotional well being as well.
Eric Stevens speculates that women gravitate toward fitness groups more than men because “women exercise for each other. I don’t really think those exercise classes are packed because women are trying to impress men and catch men’s eyes. It’s about connecting with each other.”
On the business side, I have enjoyed joining a few local communities that are made up of other female entrepreneurs (AWE) and most recently the local Chamber of Commerce. These groups connect people with common interests and goals, and introduces us to new ideas and opportunities for growth.
With the ease of digital communication, it is easier than ever to join online communities and never meet a live person. The traditional definition of a community is related to geography (neighborhoods, school, church, etc.), but virtual communities are groups of people with a shared interest in a hobby, profession, or a other interest who get and share ideas and connect online – unrelated to geographic location. Virtual communities resemble real life communities in the sense that they both provide support, information, friendship and acceptance … only online you may never actually meet in person.
As someone who has made a career out of developing websites using a platform called WordPress, I have found the WordPress community to be highly connected and supportive. There are many virtual forums and groups which take new members under its wing without judgement. This community is strengthened by the real life meetings between community members, at local Meet Ups and conferences all over the world. The combination of virtual and physical communities as powerful – it s a great feeling to connect with someone online and share ideas and advice, and then to actually meet in person and strengthen that relationship.
Similarly, the Facebook community can be a place where you feel connected and supported. I know I have “connected” with friends from high school who live far away, but I feel closer to them now that I have in 30 years … that connection is reassuring. It would be great to reinforce that connection with a face to face get together at a reunion someday!
Is a “virtual” community any less relevant, real or valuable than a local community that meets in person?
Many studies have explored the benefits of virtual communities and luddites (rightfully) criticize the potential for virtual communities to continue to reduce human “real life” connections.
The term virtual community is attributed to the book of the same title by Howard Rheingold in 1998. Before Facebook and even the internet were the vehicles we know today, virtual communities were defined as “the social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.’
Some criticize the extent to which a virtual community can substute for face-to-face networks. One blogger says the social gestures of poking someone on Facebook or liking a YouTuber’s uploaded video can never accurately demonstrate the compassion and geniality of a shared smile, comforting hug or encouraging high-five. However, an interesting research plan points out that the decline in social capital – spending less time with friends and neighbors, less likely to join clubs and organizations – began occurring too early to be associated with the rise of home computing or the internet.
Four Benefits of Virtual Communities
A 2002 study concluded that a benefit of virtual communities it that they can give users a feeling of membership and belonging. Users can give and receive support, and it is simple and cheap to use.
Virtual communities provide the ability for information to be easily be posted and shared. For those seeking support, advice or answers, response times can be very fast.
It is so easy to share information by clicking and posting/sharing a link. It is no surprise that many people get their news from social networks like Facebook. (Of course, it is easy to share mis-information as well!)
Opportunity to give back/teach and advise
It is not only easy to share links in a virtual community – it is also easy to create content to share your knowledge with others. I have developed skills and interests from information shared in my communities, which inspires me to want to help others as I have been helped!