Virtual Community Research Paper

Introduction

For a number of years, the Meta territoriality made possible by telecommunications has intrigued us with its potential to escape the national sovereignty of states. Virtuality creates new kinds of communities, which may acquire some of the powers and prerogatives of existing sovereignties (Bugliarello).

Globalization is generally referred to as the increasing interaction of people and places, which was the result of development of transportation systems, communication channels and information technologies that leads to cultural, economic and political contingence.

Nowadays, it is impossible to imagine life without Internet. It is irreplaceable when doing business and searching for partnerships, presenting products and services to consumers and communicating producers, as well as using it for entertaining purposes. Today it is the main tool of globalizing all aspects of social, political and economic spheres of everyday life. It opens channels for communication, choice and participation in an expanding public spheres fostered by popular to new media. Internet’s key feature remains lower barrier to entry and a wide range of possibilities for those who are willing to do e-commerce or just develop present business in all directions.

In this research paper I am aiming to explore globalization issues in the context of Internet development, define virtual communities and their key roles, investigate in the question of what does virtual Diaspora look like and what are possible types of it. I will also try to disclose the notion of identity and its role in establishment of virtual communities and Diasporas.

Virtual communities

There are three basic types of social relationships: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary refers to supporting face-to-face interactions, usually on the everyday basis. They involve all aspects of the life of an individual, and generally this type of relationship includes family members and close friends. Secondary interactions are also referred to as face-to-face, but they are most likely to be impersonal, for example, business interactions. And finally tertiary interactions are connected with those people whom we do not meet customarily, indirect relationships. It is not right to consider Internet supporting just tertiary or secondary ties. It is essential that Internet can reinforce primary or local bonds.

It is obvious that Internet provides the possibility to create new types of social relationships and creating particular groups. Usage of e-mail, web pages and of chatting facilities make the communication among people with similar interests and backgrounds very easy and allow them maintain social ties without seeing each other, or in other words without physical presence of each other. This type of communication is called as “online” or “virtual communities” which are of high popularity worldwide. One of the most important things about computer-mediated social formations is creation of social connections, which are not geographically tied. Rapid development of Internet, related services and investigating in online social formations make it possible to think about creation of “community without proximity”, in which it is possible for individuals to interact freely at large distance by means of technologies, instead of face-to-face exchanges.

Networked communication makes private, close professional or functional social circles portable. Individuals can carry with them, and have immediately accessible, the channels of communication needed to keep in touch with individuals that are vital for maintaining a sense of stability and social anchoring (Wellman 227-52).

There are several reasons for enjoying those online connections. Primarily, people want to be socially active- meeting and communicating people, playing games online, sharing jokes, funny stories and personal experiences. For such purposes there exist chat rooms- for example- www.elecricminds.org. Then people can work together or doing business. That can be communities as within a particular company, which would strengthen their team, and also communities between different companies to work and discuss common projects together, for example, http://bigbangworkshops.com/. People can be interested in topical conversations as well, for example, www.well.com or www.salon.com. There people share their experiences, opinions and ideas upon particular subjects (marriage issues, health, relationships, baby care, business and finance, traveling, religion, music, international, etc.) Such communities can be also structured in accordance with particular region, city, school or University (for example, www.livejournal.com). By the way, to my opinion Livejournal.com is one of the most successful and precise example of virtual community, as there it is possible to find everything regarding interested topic. Each person has the possibility to create his own account (it can be free or paid) or a community, specify a list of interests in order to attract new people and to search for people with similar interests. It is possible to find new partners, supplier or producers there in definite communities; rent, buy or sell property or business. It can also be an additional advertisement for the existing business, as a person on the everyday basis can inform interested parties in what is going on.

Virtual communities create new possibilities for identity. One of another bright example of virtual community is Second Life. It is a virtual society, a 3-D virtual world that was totally created by its residents. This community was launched in 2003 and since that time it acquired such popularity that today the number of its residents is already counted in millions. Once a person enters Second Life, he will discover a great continent, will teem with different people, and be involved in entertainment, experiences and opportunities. After the exploration it will be time for building personal house or starting a business. You are not alone there, as you’ll be surrounded by creations of other members. Then it is possible to trade digital creations, as Residents retain rights to them. The turnover of the Marketplace per month is millions of US dollars.

It is obvious that virtual communities have advantages and disadvantages. It is impossible to deny that computer communication created a strong potential for social interaction of people, locations and ideas that are at long distances. The questionable remains the quality of this interactions and the role of technologies in replacing or supplementing personal relationships. For some extent, Internet replaces strong, face-to-face relationships with weak online ties or with socially hollow interaction with the technology itself. Another threat is connected with the assumption that those virtual communities create the world that is dominated with the narcissism of similarity. Although virtual communities do not deny presence of online sociability, it can be significantly restricted by grouping people according to their age, gender or ideology.

I must say that Internet has greatly contributed to the understanding of people of what social space and relationships are. …computer-mediated communication does depersonalize some of our social interactions. For example, e-commerce and e-banking reduce or even eliminate human interactions. However, the relationships that we lose are not primary, strong-tie (i.e., those with family and friends), but secondary, weak-tie (i.e., those with sales clerks). In consequence, replacing impersonal human relationships with purely technological ones saves time, which can then be used for maintaining or reinforcing primary social relationships. This can be done in-person or via technological means–e.g., by e-mailing family members or a long-lost friend. Online social ties could, from this perspective, support and extend offline ties (Matei).

Speaking about advantages, I would like to investigate in the case with immigrants. They use Internet in order to keep ties to different social spaces and in general use communication technologies as the bridge between cyber space and geographical space. Computer-mediated communication in this case makes possible for immigrants to monitor and renovate their social interconnections.

Virtual Diasporas

As a result of the weakening of traditional ties in late modernity, people look towards virtual communities as social loci for the re-negotiation and construction of their identities. The ambiguous and complex environment of cyberspace becomes a new arena for the articulation of the politics of recognition, generating hybrid collective formations, such as digital nations, virtual Diasporas and other online communities of an ethnic/national orientation. These novel contexts of social interaction emerge from the localized flows of electronic mediascapes and challenge our notions of home, belonging, community and identity in various ways. More importantly, they function as manifestations of the desire of communities to exist in public space and confirm their presence in an increasingly complex and mediated social world (Diamandaki).

Internet, or a Global village, how it is frequently called, had created mediated and social networks, which are populated with number of individuals with different backgrounds and national origins. While trying to explore what a Virtual Diaspora is, I have found out that this term is very much connected with the notion of identity. Virtual identity cannot be defined at once, there is no strict definition of it, which can be always referred to, but it is also true that it is impossible to define any other type of identity. Identity is generally socially-constructed and contains building relationships with people and things around. As to the nature of identity, it appears to be rather political. Creation of identity is the process of definition, negotiation and social struggle. It includes political acceptance, discourse and law, exclusion and inclusion (Diamandaki). Identity also presumes power, as, for example, minority groups do not have enough strength to determine themselves.

Yet identity is becoming the main […] source of meaning in a historical period characterized by widespread destructuring of organizations, deletigimation of institutions, fading away of major social movements, and ephemeral cultural expressions. People increasingly organize their meaning not around what they do but on the basis of what they […] believe they are. Meanwhile, on the other hand, global networks of instrumental exchanges selectively switch on and off individuals, groups, regions, and even countries, according to their relevance in fulfilling the goals processed in the network, in a relentless flow of strategic decision. It follows a fundamental split between abstract, universal instrumentalism, and historically rooted, particularist identities (Castells 470).

Ethnicity is interconnected with establishment of Virtual Diasporas as well. National and ethnic identities can be observed everywhere in Internet. They appear to be parts of e-mail addresses and web-pages. When in communities, they appear to be in nick-names of individuals (e.g. “SophieNewYorK” or “Willy.MistyAlbion”).

It is also possible to distinguish between diasporic and non-diasporic nationalities and ethnicities. The difference depends upon the type of communities that they present their practices and primary goals.

Diasporic communities can be divided into three main categories- nations and national groups without a state, expatriate communities of exiting nation-states and communities of dissidents who have fled totalitarian regimes. The first category contains diasporic populations to whom this term has generally been applied to (e.g. the Jews, the Tibetans, etc.). Main discourses among those virtually created Diasporas are memories, pain, dislocation and suffering. Such communities usually speak a lot about lost home and their right to return home (Palestinian Diaspora). In this case the key symbol of ethnic identity is “their” land and the collective memory of exile. On the contrary of creating virtual Diasporas, I would like to present an example of Jewish community and Sabbath. For Jewish Diaspora Sabbath allowed overcoming the barrier of geographical dislocation without any technological advances. The greatest invention of the ancient Hebrews was the idea of the sabbath, though I am using this word in a fully secular sense: the invention of a region free from control of the state and commerce where another dimension of life could be experienced and where altered forms of social relationship could occur. As such the Sabbath has always been a major resistance to state and market power (Carrey 227). And on the other hand Jewish communities are widespread in Internet. For those of us already living in Jewish communities, the Internet binds us together. We can get information, we chat on mailing lists, and we can share our ideas and personalities on web sites. But for Jews isolated in remote locations, the web can really open up the Jewish world for them. And as time goes by, the web will bring us more and more to learn about our people, Jewish history and culture, and torah and mitzvoth (Tannenbaum).

The second category includes immigrants, as questions of global mobility and immigration are very relevant nowadays. The main purpose of creation of such communities is an attempt to build a home in Internet, which is far away from real home. Examples contain Chinese, Indians, Russians, and African-Americans living abroad. Such Diasporas are not very much interested in politics, they are just aiming to develop and sustain spirit of unity with their Motherland by means of communicating people with similar needs and building a strong virtual community.

The last third category involves exile communities, aiming to de-legitimize or destruct the regimes in their counties. Key topic of such communities is striving for democracy.

There are also non-diasporic communities with such subcategories: nations with a state and regional ethnicities within a nation. Communities and web-pages of the first subcategory usually choose primary symbols and ideologically attractive myths for their national identity. It can be anthems, flags, symbolic colors or historical events. And the second subcategory web-sites are created aiming to develop the sense of ethnic peculiarity and historicity. So, it becomes obvious that virtual Diaspora communities are very much important in establishing international relationships, resolving conflicts and assisting in cooperation.

Conclusion

In the conclusion I would like to summarize all key point of the paper and develop some idea about potentialities of virtual communities and virtual Diasporas. So, it is already obvious for a long time that globalization is inevitable and quickly developed process. It includes all spheres of people’s lives, and is tightly connected with technological advances. Step-by-step time and space become to loose their common meaning and now to do business it is not necessary to have a premise and a numerous working staff. To have a computer with an access to Internet Explorer is far enough to get started. Internet is frequently used for buying stuff and watching sight seeing of the other countries. The whole world is open and ready to astonish with numerous possibilities. A person can just sit in the room and communicate friends from the other side of the world through “Skype” and seeing them as well by means of web-camera, or CEO of a large corporation can use this tool for negotiations or even for a conference regarding business issues.

People can trade stocks on Internet and earn money- save of time for paperwork. If someone had to move to another country to work or to study, it is always possible to stay with your family “online” or just communicate people of the same interested and not to feel lonely. A talented writer can easily share his works with other in special communities and women who are interested in fashion can easily watch latest clothes demonstrations at company’s sites and immediately buy what they want.

So, new is always good and creating is always optimistic, and the same is with virtual communities and globalization process.

Sources:
Matei, Sorin. “The Impact of State-Level Social Capital on the Emergence of Virtual Communities”. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, vol.8, issue 1 (2004):23+
Wellmann, B. “Physical Space and Cyber Space: The Rise of Personalized Networks”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25(2): 227-252
Bugliarello, George. “Virtual Nations or Telecommunication”. The Futurist, vol. 36, issue 4(2002):30+
Tannenbaum, A. The Jewish Internet – A Guru’s View (online interview). Retrieved November 25, 2007 from the World Wide Web: http://www.wujs.org.il/activist/features/articles/andrew_interview.shtml
Diamandaki, Katerina. “Virtual ethnicity and digital diasporas: Identity construction in cyberspace”. Global Media Journal, vol.2, issue 2 (2003)
Castells, M. The Power of Identity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.
Carey, J. Communication as Culture. Essays on media and society. London: Routledge, 1989.
Smith, R. Actual and possible uses of cyberspace by and among states, diasporas and migrants. Retrieved November 24, 2007 from the World Wide Web: http://www.nautilus.org/virtual-diasporas/paper/SmithPaper.html
Rheingold, H. The virtual community: Finding connection in a computerised world. London: Secker and Warburg, 1994.
Du Gay, P., Evans, J. and Redman, P. (Eds) Identity: a reader. London: Sage Publications, 2000.
Foster, D. Community and identity in the electronic village. In D. Porter (Ed.). Internet culture, (pp.24-37). London: Routledge, 1997.

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