Culture and Community

 

I was aware that culture had multiple definitions, but I guess I hadn’t considered how complex the sociological definition was as compared to the straightforward biological definition. Language and the meaning of words can change and evolve over time. This can lead to very abstract definitions that are very unhelpful. In the Spilka reading, Williams provided a great summary of the meaning of culture and how it changed over time:

‘It came to mean first, “a general state or habit of the mind” … Second, it came to mean “the general state of intellectual development, in a society as a whole.” Third, it came to mean “the general body of the arts.” Fourth,  … it came to mean “a whole way of life, material, intellectual, and spiritual,”’

Culture can mean any and all of the above, which adds to the confusion. We use a word which can have several different meanings, and that meaning is dependent on the context. That creates an opportunity for a vast range or interpretations.

Community seemed more straightforward to me that it has been depicted in the reading. I can understand the desire to create a universal community that includes everyone, but that goal is not realistic. The Brufee communication model explored this option by creating a community with expectations and values that are known by all members.

The idea of insiders and outsiders of a community make sense, but it contradicts the goal of the universal community. As explained by Bernadette Longo, this would be a totality rather than a community. This is also an unlikely idea because individuals do have different values, ideals, and preferences. There are millions of people who use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites, but very few people use all of them. Even if those sites made controlled upgrades, there is no way that they could create an environment that would convince everyone to join and use the site.

I’ve witnessed Rheingold’s spirit of community on forums such as Boardgamegeek, 40K Forums, and Backpacker, but even those online communities are not without their problems. There are still active members who do not share in the value of community. Many put in extra effort to welcome new members and contribute to the knowledge and friendly spirit of the site, but there are others who wish to keep the exclusivity of the community, and drive away those that don’t seem to fit the feel that they have become accustomed to. My experience is that communities often begin to police themselves, both good and bad, to help control their membership. Sometimes it is driving out the disruptive forces through peer pressure, and sometimes it is driving away people that the policing force sees as annoying. Either way, few communities are truly welcoming to everyone.

Map of Online Communities

Retrieved from http://xkcd.com/256/

With online communities, people have a choice about which communities they would like to be part of. They aren’t like geographic communities where you become part of one purely by proximity or location. Online communities bring people together because of similar interests or ideas. People stay a part of the community because of shared information, shared connections, or some other satisfaction gained from it. There are many reasons people stay with a forum or social media site, and each person defines and finds their own meaning.

In Spilka, Baudrillard’s characterization of postmodern as “the age of simulation… substituting signs of the real for the real itself” was a good summary of part two of the Turkel book. Postmodern has always been a term that I have struggled with. I’ve never been good with relative definitions, so saying that it follows modernism is really not helpful to me. I’ve also never been good with art and architecture descriptions. I appreciate the quote because it does describe a lot of the social interaction between individuals on social media sites. They substitute real interpersonal relationships for hollow online interactions. There can still be meaningful interactions using social media, but many are shallow and hollow shadows of the alternative.

(edit – I realised that the image I uploaded last night was not the correct one.)

Posted on November 3, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Hi:

    I’ve been making a point to try to go to the links people reference and I got so caught up in Backpacker that you mentioned that I kind of forgot what I was doing (supposed to be doing). I really enjoyed some of the discussion threads and storytelling, However, that’s part of my concern about SM–it’s so time consuming! You go deeper and deeper into layers…

    I thought all three of the communities you linked had a strong sense of community just from a quick click through, though I wasn’t completely sure what 40 k was about (painting army figures?). I liked how you linked Longo’s reading with your communities.

    • I’ve always liked forums because they seem to have a longer shelf life than blogs (although both are easily searchable). It is very easy to lose a lot of time to them, and part of why I left. The other part was a tendency to keep looking at and researching new backpacking gear that I don’t have time to use.
      (40k Forums is for an expensive miniature wargame/hobby. The group of friends I had in college was into it, so I joined to feel more connected.)

  2. Great post! Your discussion on community and the various ways communities may police or remove the “annoying” forces really caught my attention. I find it interesting that some really value the exclusiveness of certain communities so much so that they shun those who might not fit their standard or mold.

    I also find the discussion about social media interactions as hollow shadows quite strong. I often find much online interaction loses the interpersonal relationship you mention unless one really takes the time to remember the human and offer an authentic self to the relationship. This may be hard for some in the online world, depending on the nature of the relationship and the value one places in it.

    I enjoyed reading your post,

  3. This passage was particularly insightful:

    My experience is that communities often begin to police themselves, both good and bad, to help control their membership. Sometimes it is driving out the disruptive forces through peer pressure, and sometimes it is driving away people that the policing force sees as annoying. Either way, few communities are truly welcoming to everyone.

    There’s a lot of research out there, starting with Howard Rheingold’s work on virtual communities way back in 1993 [see entire text here: http://www.rheingold.com/vc/book/%5D, and I wonder if this might make a good topic for your final paper. Perhaps you could compare the online communities you’re familiar with to workplace “culture”?

    • Thanks! I will definately have to look into that. I’ve been struggling with figuring out a topic, and I know that time is coming up very quickly.

      • Just email me if you want to talk it over further before the proposal date! I was just thinking aloud but you’ve mentioned those online communities a few times and I think you’d have a lot of unique info to work with!

  4. I thought that you made some really good points here. I did think that your point that we get to have more determination in choice of online communities. I think to a point that you are very correct in your assertion. However, if we look at past readings, such as Turkle, we get a different picture, where people are trapped into online communities because of real life relationships. So I do think that we aren’t as limited, but I do think that our real life communities do continue to impact much of our online activity.

  5. “With online communities, people have a choice about which communities they would like to be part of. They aren’t like geographic communities where you become part of one purely by proximity or location. Online communities bring people together because of similar interests or ideas. People stay a part of the community because of shared information, shared connections, or some other satisfaction gained from it.” I absolutely agree with this comment!

    I didn’t understand why anyone would want a Universal community and, even before it appeared in that passage, all I could think of was Hitler and that a universal community sounded a lot like what he was trying to accomplish.

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