Culture and Community
Posted by smitht09052013
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.
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.)
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