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Cyberville and the Spirit of Community

Cyberville and the Spirit of Community

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Published by Roger Scime
I wrote this paper in late 1994--several months before Netscape Navigator brought Internet and the WWW into our consciousness and became an inextricable part of the human universe. In it I discuss the possibility of online communities, as described by Howard Rheingold ("Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the electronic frontier") and as idealized by Amatai Etzioni ("The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda."). SInce its virtual publication on The WELL's gopher, it has been cited hundreds of times in academic papers, although its use has become increasingly sparse in recent years. Oh, well.

I'm still uncertain about its conclusions in light of FaceBook, YouTube, MySpace and other social media models, but I think the paper still has something to offer . . . if for no other reason than to present one user's paleolithic perspective on the Internet.
I wrote this paper in late 1994--several months before Netscape Navigator brought Internet and the WWW into our consciousness and became an inextricable part of the human universe. In it I discuss the possibility of online communities, as described by Howard Rheingold ("Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the electronic frontier") and as idealized by Amatai Etzioni ("The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda."). SInce its virtual publication on The WELL's gopher, it has been cited hundreds of times in academic papers, although its use has become increasingly sparse in recent years. Oh, well.

I'm still uncertain about its conclusions in light of FaceBook, YouTube, MySpace and other social media models, but I think the paper still has something to offer . . . if for no other reason than to present one user's paleolithic perspective on the Internet.

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Published by: Roger Scime on Nov 13, 2010
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==============================================================This document is from the WELL gopher server:http://www.well.com/gopher/Community/cybervilleQuestions and comments to: gopher@well.com==============================================================Roger Scime932 Kimbal DrReno, NV 89503rscime@gmail.com
<cyberville> and the Spirit of Community:Howard Rheingold-Meet Amitai Etzioni
Prologue
You are on a roadway with many exits. You pass off-ramps that say:shopping district, university, library, town hall, the cracker barrel,government services, bank, church, and more. Although you are hurtlingdown the highway at at the speed of light, you somehow still have time forreflection as to where you are going and what you will do once you reachyour destination or destinations. You unconsciously note the sign that youpassed mere nanoseconds ago: <cyberville.next.n.exits>. You are travelingdown the information superhighway, and some say that there exists avirtual community just beyond the verge.
 
Introduction
When Howard Rheingold asserts that "whenever [computer mediatedcommunications] technology becomes available to people anywhere, theyinevitably build communities with it" (Rheingold 6), he is making astatement that demands examination. Community, after all, is a term thathas been bandied about in recent years, perhaps as a result of the recentemphasis on its importance as promulgated by communitarian advocates suchas Robert Bellah, and Amitai Etzioni, editor of The Responsive Community,the journal of communitarian thought. Etzioni, a professor at GeorgeWashington University, is perhaps the best known representative of themodern communitarian movement, having written numerous articles as well asan agenda for the movement, The Spirit of Community (1993), which explainsthe communitarian position-as well as rationale-on a number of issueswhere rights and responsibilities might appear to come into conflict.Howard Rheingold, on the other hand, is a self-described former hippieand member of the "granola-eating crowd." He became involved in thecomputer conferencing group, the WELL in 1985, as a natural outgrowth ofhis involvement with the Whole Earth Catalog, the bible of seriouscounter-culturists during the 1960s. He is an acknowledged lay expert onthe social and cultural implications of cyberspace, and has writtenextensively on the subject, mostly for the popular press. His most recentbook, The Virtual Community (1993), has been cited as an authoritativesource of information regarding the potential for the National InformationInfrastructure (Katz, Schwartz, Weise).I have attempted to determine the communitarian criteria for communityfrom Etzioni's _The Spirit of Community_, as well as from the writings ofJames Fishkin and Evan Schwartz, who have written on the issue ofcommunity in cyberspace. While none of these communitarian authors committo providing a taxonomy of community, much can be inferred from theirwritings. I have inferred certain determinants of community from theirwritings and compare them to characteristics that Rheingold suggests exist
 
in cyberspace (and meet his criteria for community). The characteristicsthat the communitarians assert as being required for a community areshared interests, shared values, caring and nurturing, discourse, and amoral voice. We will first examine these characteristics and then see ifthese characteristics do, as Rheingold suggests, exist in cyberspace.
The characteristic of shared interests.
Webster defines community as "a body of individuals organized into aunit or manifesting usually with some awareness some unifying trait," andwe often speak of the legal or medical communities-communities defined byoccupation; indeed, work-based communities have become part of ournational vocabulary. Although less frequently encountered, we sometimeshear of a community of luthiers (stringed-instrument makers), modelairplane enthusiasts, or motorcyclists; reference to ethnic communitiesabound, as well as to communities of minority or protected groups.Is physical proximity critical to this interest-based paradigm ofcommunity? Not according to Etzioni: "there is room for nongeographiccommunities that criss-cross the others, such as professional orwork-based communities" (Etzioni 32). He goes on to explain that, "theyfulfill many of the social and moral functions of traditional communities. . . " and workers ". . . often develop work-related friendships andcommunity webs. . . . As they learn to know and care for one another,they also form and reinforce moral expectations" (Etzioni 121). Even incases where community is defined by ethnicity, geographic proximity is notrequired. As Etzioni states,In some instances members of one ethnic group live comfortably next to one another, as in NewYork City's Chinatown and Miami's Little Havana. In other cities ethnic groups are moregeographically dispersed but sustain ethnic-community bonds around such institutions aschurches and synagogue, social clubs, and private schools. (Etzioni 120)

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