If you wanted to meet new people in 1907, you had to go out into the world and talk to them, face to face. This severely limited the geographical size of most people's social worlds as those worlds were limited by how far you could travel. Meeting people was much the same in 1957 as it was in 1907, but once you knew somebody there were additional ways available to communicate with them, specifically the telephone, which led to an expansion of people's social worlds beyond the limits of easy travel. You can still meet people the old fashioned way today, but the introduction and growth of the Internet and the world wide web over the past twenty years have completely removed geographical limits to our social worlds by giving us the tools to meet, get to know and keep in touch with people from nearly every place in the world, regardless of where we are.
[...] Ammon Mcneely, a well known rockclimber and an 11 year participant in the Rockclimbing.com community, told me in an email interview that his primary motivation for participation "is to inspire those who are dreaming about what I've already done and to be inspired by those who have done what I dream about" (email interview). We can see that there are numerous benefits to being involved in an online community but as Howard Rheingold says in his book The Virtual Community, "nobody who has let her meal grow cold and her family grow concerned while she keeps typing furiously on a keyboard in full hot-blooded debate with a group of invisible people in faraway places can dismiss the dark side of online enthusiasm" (Rheingold). [...]
[...] When Rheingold wrote those words in 1993 the World Wide Web was in it's infancy. The World Wide Web of today offers a seemingly limitless amount of information and an almost equally limitless number of options for entertaining ourselves. Combine this with the explosion in the number of people with internet access and we find that more people are spending what they or others consider to be too much time online. There is even a name for it - "Internet Addiction Disorder" - and a proposal has been made to include it in the next psychiatric diagnostic manual (Grohol). [...]
[...] And that's a different kind of thing than the old pattern of "online community." In 1993, Howard Rheingold wrote "not only do I inhabit my virtual communities; to the degree that I carry around their conversations in my head and begin to mix it up with them in real life, my virtual communities also inhabit my life." Although some researchers feel that spending time online can cause problems for some people, most research shows that the majority of those who's online communities "inhabit (their) live(s)" (Rheingold) find their virtual experiences to be overall an addition to their lives instead of a detraction. [...]
[...] Common interests can include the medium of communication itself, as in game worlds like World of Warcraft or chat worlds like Second Life, but the majority of virtual communities revolve around subjects like sports, hobbies, technology, and pop culture. Problem-oriented communities involve subjects like medical and psychological issues, grieving, and parenting (Ridings/Gefen). Surprisingly, participants in communities of differing orientations report the same basic reasons for being attracted to a virtual community. They also see the same basic benefits from being involved, regardless of the subject matter. [...]
[...] "Increasing participation in online communities: A framework for human– computer interaction." Computers in Human Behavior 23 (2007) 1881–1893. Science Direct Jan Dec 2007.
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