I read two very interesting posts yesterday. The primary post, by Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut, discussed why his experiences led him to believe that our group of blogs was not a community. The second post, by Rowan Blaze of I Have Touched the Sky, responded to Bel’s with skepticism but acknowledgement of important points. I left a comment to Bel on his website, but the topic stayed with me afterwards and, like all great blog posts do, really got me thinking, so I thought I’d take today to further develop my ideas on the topic.
As with many debates, the true core of this is semantic. What Bel means by community and what I mean when I use the same word are inherently different. That’s what makes some debates so frustrating: two people talking past one another not realizing they’re really talking about two different things. It’s also what can make debates so rewarding, when you and another person find a way to expand the understanding of the other by sharing your personal connotations of words. As an English professor, I love watching this sort of thing (and, of course, taking part in it as well).
To the point, I absolutely do think our loose collection of blogs is a community, and I think labeling it as such is important. By labeling it, we remind ourselves that even when we disagree, there is a commonality that we share. It gives us some ownership not only of our own blogs, but in all the blogs out there with which we identify. That ownership isn’t meant to imply any creative control, just that we feel motivated to participate in, cultivate, and defend one another (even if defend = disagree, which is absolutely can).
Bel notes that the “one anothers” in our community are often strangers with whom we’ve decided to identify based solely on pixels through a screen. Of course, there’s legitimacy to that argument. The ability of the Internet to replicate a form of dissociative identity disorder is startling, so it’s no wonder that our ties to people we only know through pixels might be thinner or more fragile. However, while of course there’s millions of years of evolution, mirror neurons, public personas, and fear of shame that may change our face-to-face behavior, in the end, we only know our “real world” friends though the masks that they put on, as well. Sure, over a long enough period of time, those masks may vanish and one may learn the true nature of his or her friends (for better or worse), the fact that you can never be that sure didn’t inhibit the relationship in its early stages.
The same can be true of our digital relationships. In a brief and enjoyable Twitter exchange, Bel said (I have no idea how to display just his tweet, so bear with me),
I responded that that sort of reaching out was precisely why I think labeling it a community was so important. If you’re just writing in a room of strangers, why bother? But when those other writers are part of your community, well. Now we have a reason to build.
Belghast’s post is exactly spot-on in every example he provides. We’ve all felt the “chill” of suddenly being alienated from people we’d considered friends when we leave a particular group, and it can take time to grow into whatever new group we’ve joined. In that meantime, though, isolation can set in. I’ve seen a lot of other bloggers talk about this upon quitting their blog or taking a break from games. We’re all likely guilty of such an accidental shunning as well.
It’s never been intentional, of course. With so many blogs out there in our community, when someone steps out, it’s far too easy to slowly (or even quickly at times) forget about them. I’ve gone back and looked at my “hidden” links (because I never delete a link in case the blog comes back), and here’s just a small list of people I’ve lost touch with who were “good blogging buddies” in my past:
Runz from Runzwithfire
Jamin from Shattered Beginnings
Nube of Lonely Pally
Rhii of Oh My Kurenai!
Issy of Jaceandco
…and plenty of others. Some of those people were my top commentators for a time, and I’ve allowed them to just… fade away.
And that’s the dark side, the somber side of communities. They’re as easy to leave as they are to join (if they’re harder to leave, they’re probably cults), and often, making the choice to leave ends your time with the community members.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that great friendships can’t form that outlast whatever community brought them together. I have friends in guilds that I quit long ago, and I do keep in touch with some people I met through my blog who aren’t around as much any more (Krel, for example. How are you?). Those rare opportunities are part of what makes having a community so important; that “reaching out” to which Bel alludes happens because of the commonality, in spite of the fact that we all know how ephemeral our membership may be.
So however you may think about community, or however you may want to label our little group of blogs, remember that the words don’t matter, the intentions do. Feeling that group membership, knowing that you’re a part of something, and the enjoyment you get out of it while you’re there should always be leveraged against the knowledge that it’s only for a time. For right now.
Stubborn (for now)