Comments on Community

Being a visual learner, McEd used an analogy to describe community that, no matter how hard I try to alter or disprove it, his analogy holds true for my definition of community. He described community as the creation of light from a flashlight on a wall. Please keep that picture in your mind as you continue to read this entry.

Initially I believed that a community entailed groups of people. While I maintain that stance, I have recently toiled with the idea of the individual nature of community. Let me explain...

Each of us belongs to many communities. Each community consists of groups of people who share a commonality be it beliefs, interests, or heritage. The individual's sense of belonging in the particular community is characterized by the individual's level of participation in a community. I believe that as one progresses across the binary continuum of participation, so too does the sense of belonging in the community. The level of involvement dictates the sense of belonging. Referring back to the flashlight image, the more one participates, the closer one gets to the center of the light. The more concentrated area of light equates to the sense of belonging, which is enforced by the level of participation.

In order to participate, we must communicate with the other members of the community. Our communication can be verbal and nonverbal, but we must communicate in order to participate. As a lurker or voyeur, we exist on the fringes of the light. Communication exists as the negotiation of our participation to the center or fringes of the light. In order to communicate, the community must have a common language.  The podcast, Tweet Talk 1, raised some important ideas and questions. In particular, Minh's comments intrigued me. She raised the question of whether the discourse creates the community or the community creates the discourse. While the jury is still deliberating, I think that a mutuality exists where one influences, impacts, and alters the other. Either way, as the discourse is negotiated in the community, some aspects must be shared for survival. Often times, Darwinian aspects take hold and both the community and its discourse evolve. 

Technology acts as another participation catalyst. In CI597C, we have been discussing different disruptive technologies. Donna's post, "Can't We All Just Belong," discusses this concept. Using Pligg, we CI597Cers and any other lurkers who are courageous enough to comment are able to tease out different ideas. My comment on Donna's post is still applicable today in that I think that it is the marriage of technology and individual that determines the participation of the couple. (Aside: In this way, I wonder to what extent technology impacts our identity...)

When we shine a flashlight, we value the brightest area of light to help us see. I have posed this question before, but I wonder to what extent the level of participation determines the value of that person's membership in the community. My thinking is that they are linked. The more someone participates in a community, the more we learn about their identity. We see their identity through our community's lens and construct decisions regarding that person's status in our perception of the community.

The comments thus far have been with regard to community in its pluralistic nature, but I believe that community has an individualistic component that is unique to its owner. If we refer the flashlight image again but instead think about the center and the fringe being composed of different communities rather than the individual, we can see that our individual community (the flashlight) is composed of the multitude of communities to which we belong, with the strongest communities in which we invest our energy in the center to those communities in which we just lurk on the edges to the dark areas containing communities to which we have yet to belong. The aforementioned theories of negotiation in the individual scenario are applicable here as well. The communities to which we belong are negotiated through our participation within them. They traverse to the center from the fringes and vice versa as we continue on the journey we call life. We are impacted by the stops we make and the sights we see on the trip and yet the trip will forever change us and define our identities.