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Virtual Communities

Is the inworld experience any different from real life?

Full Definition of community

plural: communities

  • 1:  a unified body of individuals: as
    • a :  state, commonwealth
    • b :  the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly :  the area itself<the problems of a large community>
    • c :  an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location
    • d :  a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society <a community of retired persons>
    • e :  a group linked by a common policy
    • f :  a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests <the international community>
    • g :  a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society <the academic community>
  • 2:  society at large
  • 3
    • a :  joint ownership or participation <community of goods>
    • b :  common character :  likeness <community of interests>
    • c :  social activity :  fellowship
    • d :  a social state or condition

How does one define a community? If one takes the above Merriam-Webster definition, you can find all sorts of examples that exist both in the human world and in the animal kingdom. Communities require some level of interconnectivity. I really would rather focus on human interactivity though. So, this narrows our view, but also brings into play a new question. Which era of definition do you want to focus on? Prior to the strong interconnectedness that is the internet, people relied upon their local peers.

Communities in these instances involved neighborhoods, or clusters of farms that could call on each other. Communities would stretch across countrysides and include small villages. Sometimes these communities traveled like in the case of tribal societies in the middle east and mongolia, or the american midwest.

These communities were essential to life and existence within the world. There was strength in numbers as our dog compatriots can attest to. Every member of the community served a role. The hunters, the gathers, the caregiver’s, tool makers. Each person contributed to the overall strength and vitality of that community.

If we return to the villages, or towns concept, the roles become more varied, and those people who do them are in greater number. Civilization relies on the sense of community in order to accomplish greater things. In modern times, we even talk of international communities interacting, giving, and receiving ideas and materials.

Our definition of these communities has changed significantly with the introduction of the internet, and that difference can be seen across the generations. Just this thanksgiving, my grandmother in-law was preaching about how children don’t play kick the can, or half-baseball anymore, and that everyone was stuck to their phones. She felt very angry and was obviously disgusted by it.

Take our modern parents, and you discover a whole new aspect. The phone is part of their life style. What interest I have is seeing the generation that grows up now, living with the eternally digitized videos and photos of them growing up as a steady stream of media from their parent’s facebook pages. New ways of interactivity  have changed our view of community and have shifted the idea of where communities are located or if they even have a physicality.

For a time, I spent a great deal of time interacting on the internet. Part of that time involved a program called Second Life. I’ve moderated several forums, co-managed a hosting site, and was a member of every single instant messaging medium available. I had friends from Poland to Australia. I developed networks in the United Kingdom, and Canada.

These experiences are foundational to my view of what communities are. They are groupings of people focused on a particular topic. I would view that any pre-internet society would have a focus on maintaining their city, or surviving the tundra. Since our technology has advanced enough that we no longer have to focus on survival, that our ability to think and imagine became more possible.

Ideas can come from any mind and any place. It is when those ideas are snuffed by the inability to be actualized that we lose that moment of innovation or exchange. Those ideas may lack the resources or materials to become more. The modern communities allow people who have very specific focuses to find each other out, and collaborate. These collaborations can become communities themselves. Each person contributes something of themselves towards the end goal. Even if that goal is to simply share pictures of kittens. There are people who supply pictures of kittens, and then there are the people who view those pictures. This is a community between people.

For a less abstract concept I turn to Second Life. A 3D virtual environment that simulates the real world. People are represented by self designed avatars, and they can interact with each other socially and economically. Second Life is also a builder’s platform in that people can use basic primitives to construct models.The user can then texture and program those models to carry out specific tasks and processes.

These objects can range from simple buttons to cars and houses. Just about everything in the world is created by the user base. In conjunction with this, Second life has an entire economy that has exchange rates comparable to currency with a fee’d ability to convert from Linden dollars to national currency. Where money can be made, people will be found.

Suddenly you have people creating virtual homes, and virtual neighborhoods that the avatars can interact in. There were venues where people could go to interact as well, such as dance clubs, theaters, and role play environments. This created a community that was not locked in by any form of physicality. A person could travel from portion of the world to another with a simple teleport. A person could go anywhere for any reason.

While I do not consider that this is in any way different than that of an online forum. The medium is the only part that changes, and allows for a greater flow of ideas and goods. However, the basic operation of a chat room as opposed to a virtually represented room are no different. What the virtual room does is bridge the two concepts into one associative concept.

One of the above definitions of communities includes the concept that communities are created by a common policy. If you were to look at any online forum, or chat room there are rules that the members must prescribe to. These rules may dictate what is topical in discussions, or how many pictures persons may be able to post. Another forum that I encountered briefly had a policy in which a third of it was made of grammar rule enforcement. Infractions involved warnings, and if grammar was bad enough, users would be banned.

Even Second Life had its rules. Despite the freedom that many users felt and enjoyed within that medium, there were still rules. Some of these rules were not specifically created by Linden Labs, and were created by the communities that exist within the medium. Many of the rules were created by the communities. Many places have boards at their teleport location that showcase that area’s rules and warnings.

Communities grow up around those policies, and those communities will create them simply as the natural order when people begin to gather. The more people that become involved, the more involved the policies become. It is a standard and requirement of any culture, that rules and policies must be created.

The term communities has become something of an outdated if not scientific term used to describe society. Networks has become the term to describe any body of persons associated with each other. I can imagine that the term ‘network’ will eventually eliminate community as a common word. We define our commonality based on interests over location, and are allowed to supply our focus towards that. Networks help to bring genesis to communities. It also allows those communities to find interaction with each other creating larger communities.

So, is there really a difference? I believe that non exists between the physical or virtual communities. There exists between each of them an interchange of ideas and things. People are contributing to a focus and interact in a manner to allow all persons to be able to contribute to that society.  However, it is easy to recognize that the virtual communities are easier to use when only intellectual information is being exchanged. Material transfers are much slower within virtual communities as physical objects must still travel through real space.

Physical communities contribute a much easier transfer of materials, but the materials available are limited to the locality. Connecting with other communities becomes necessary. Physical communities are dependent on each other as much as the people within rely on each other. This reliance forces cooperation and interdependence among all who are participant.

This is a starker contrast with the virtual communities as topics are insular and very focused, and rarely reaches beyond the confines of the medium that community exists within. Infact, if a medium is discontinued, then that community is in essence is destroyed. Virtual communities are dependent on the services that mediate the communications between individuals. This is in direct opposition in that if the medium (homes or cities) are destroyed, the community can still exist.

We can see this latter part in war torn areas of the world such as Aleppo and Syria. Despite heavy conflicts occurring in the areas, communities still interact. School is still being attended and vendors still sell what they can. You can also see it in communities such as the Jewish people, whom have been displaced and persecuted, but the sense of community is enduring.

In conclusion, I can not view many differences between the two forms of communities. I can state limitations that are imposed by the medium itself, but the essential form and function of those communities are essentially the same. The differences presented can be expressed in the form of an algorithm. The greater the physical presence of a community, the more likely physical materials are part of the exchange. The greater the virtual presence of a community, the more likely ideas are part of the exchange. Communities that reside within the Second Life community is still considered virtual, but makes up in virtual goods that give a semi tangible representation of materials. It does still however fall into the pitfall, that if Linden Labs were to go out of business, then all materials within that community would also disappear.

The internet is still finding its footing, and uses. As persons discover how to use the internet to strengthen the communities, old ideas fade as new ones are brought in. As such, the mediums of virtual communities will continue to change until a universally accepted manner is adopted. Until such a time, virtual communities have a greater risk of loss then physical ones, and it is up to the members of those communities to reunite in a new one, should they so choose.

Bibliography

Community. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Lewis H. Lapham. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

“Second Life Official Site – Virtual Worlds, Avatars, Free 3D Chat.” Second Life Official Site – Virtual Worlds, Avatars, Free 3D Chat. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

Standage, Tom, and Vinton G. Cerf. The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-line Pioneers. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Eggers, David  The Circle. Print

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Authority

Authority is represented by those who hold it. It is either taken or given. Most of the time it is both. I have held a position of authority of a good portion of my working career. It comes with its rewards and its heartaches. There are a wide ranges of behaviors associated with my interactions with those people. The first two items that I want to touch on are founded entirely on my experiences on this subject.  The next two items are examinations on two different sorts of perspectives. The first is the perspective of the authority. In this I can only express from my own view point. The second is the perspective of the authority as an individual. There is some form of context to be had when viewing different forms of authority. The scale of that authority defines how we react to that authority.

I do this in order to better frame the research and establish a mindful approach when considering the questions. It is fair to try to understand how I react to authority, as well as evaluate a differing opinion. In this I want to be able to express how the two influence the other through new media. It is with this constant interconnectedness that allows that flow of information between authority and subordinate. It is impossible to interact with one and not be influenced by one as well.

Perspective as the authority

When interacting with people whom I have authority over, I have to maintain a professional decorum. I have to be able to talk to those under me, and tell them what needs to be done in order to be able to achieve tasks that are important to the goals of the company or to the day. It is my job to define the priorities and reallocate resources to the appropriate tasks. This requires me to communicate to persons within my building, and at the corporate office. I may have to field questions and give responses to other entities in other stores. This requires me to communicate via e-mail, telephone, and mobile messaging.

Understanding how I am to communicate with people depends entirely on the context of the message, which in turn defines the medium. Important things usually involve a phone call and situations that do not require immediate response is via text message or e-mail.

When communicating via these many methods I have to be aware of what I say or do. My statements can be misinterpreted or confused. A simple friendly communication from me can be considered furious or anxious to a person who may be in that frame of mind. I have to be mindful of this distinction. This mindfulness would lead me to add friendly cues to my messages, or express appreciation. It often requires me to stop and reread what I have written to ensure that questions of my competence are not called into question when I misspell or mispunctuated.

When I craft my messages I consider it an art of interaction. It is a difficult medium to properly express the intended emotion or desire. Artfully posing questions, and making it sound beneficial to the receiver is very important to me.

That is perhaps one of the hardest barriers that as an authority figure, I have to be able to drill into. People are very self absorbed and will be strongly focused on their own lives and needs. I have to communicate to the self interest of that person to convince them to help me in a task.  The need to place yourself in their shoes is evident in that. Like in any interaction that I would have, I need to empathetic to my team’s needs so they can help facilitate my request.

In this environment anonymous activities are hard to maintain. Everything is tracked, and recorded. It would be hard to send a derogatory email to all the addresses without being caught. There are time stamps, and return addresses that can be looked at. Compounded by the availability of camera systems that can be remotely accessed, it would take very little work to find the person who may have sent it. Messages sents from and to phones had numbers attached to them, as well as individual logs that can be used in prosecutions. Facebook has only become relevant when small social disputes happen and are brought into the store by the participants. I have a very strict personal rule that I will never friend request a work person. I may even on some levels refuse friend requests, especially if they are subordinate to me. This is to protect myself from any issues that may arise, and prevents them from being invasive into my personal life.

Perspective as the individual

I think it is important to know what my own personal reactions are to authority before I can fully understand how it might affect another person. Step one of understanding another person is to metaphorically walk in their shoes. This is an essential portion of this essay in that I will dive into the different types of authorities that I see, and examine how I personally evaluate them.  For each I will also examine the impacts that social media has on that authority figure. These are only three major ones out of a myriad of options available.

Government

Authority in the form of government is a very easy theme that I can deal with. I was born in the Air Force. Both of my parents were enlisted within its ranks. As one can imagine, I grew up with a military viewpoint. I am proud of the legacy they left to me. I respect my military, and I respect my government. I may not agree with them, but I am always at will to support them. While I may be slowly slipping out of the range of the draft age, I would still answer a call if my military would call on me. This is assuming that I hadn’t already seen the need and enlisted of my own volition. Therefore, I am more willing to accept government authority.

It takes a person who deliberately ignores the world around them to see only one way, and I have to recognize that not all persons to have similar viewpoints. If anything this election cycle has proven that point manyfold. Some feel that the government is too restrictive, or too loose. That it is fractured, and polarized. This is reflective of the people that have elected to our government the voices. Perhaps it is the problem that people can’t stand to look in the mirror and see themselves for who and what they are. Rather than see the government as We The People, we see it as Them The Few.

I think in this, the technology is serving government very well by creating that reflection. The people are being represented. The problem is that there are so many divergent viewpoints that there is discourse in the government’s actions. Those who have access to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone has access to all government materials and communications. They communicate to it through facebook, emails, website blogs. This constant flow of information is all additive and collects to show where we as a nation view issues.

Election cycles have been growing more dependent on this information as they tailor their arguments to the people’s needs and wants. Each candidate speaks to a specific need.  The people are having their influence heard collectively. How and where those needs can be addressed is the biggest issue at hand. Perhaps social media will continue to shape politics, and even push it in directions it could never be forced before. In this, the people are still shaping the government, and the government shapes the people. Both are evolving together as the means of communications allow that evolution to take place.

Religion

Religion as an authority figure holds absolutely no water to me. If we speak in strict religious textual terms, I’m not interested. The faiths are all corrupted by human betrayal. Even if the very voice of god as spoken, or etched words of decree, those same words have been handled by humans over many thousands of years. Each person twisting it one way and the next twisting it another. A simple change in letters, or words. Punctuation is altered. Translations are made as languages change. How can the faith not change with the times and the people’s?  

What I can acknowledge is the value of some of their teachings. Rather than accept a single faith and only its values, I try to find value  of all faiths and accept the universal values they all preach? Why not understand it in a way that connects with the person, and all persons. There is a unifying force behind the universal desires for love, acceptance, and hope. I will never a fault in a person who accepts faith and receives these things. I can fault those who take a life though, as this even is universal in all faiths. Humans have twisted these scriptures to support their desires and beliefs. It is the universal values the religion teaches that accepts my respect. The more the religion stays true to those universal values, the more respect I can have for it.

This is made easier through the use of social media. It has allowed me to connect in a different way to the many voices that speak the words of faith. It lets me see how they are toned, and how expressive they are. In this we can communicate to one another our feelings of belief, and what can make those feelings stronger. However it allows anonymous voices heard that would never have been. A shift of authority is taking place from the conventional clergy to the clergy of the internet. A perfect soapbox to stand on, evangelicals can press their faith with little restraint. Reverence may still be given to those who hold office within a religion’s hierarchy, but the true power is to the people. It then becomes the job of the figurehead to identify the people’s voices and speak on them as determined by their interpretation.

Employer

Work authority is treated much in the same way as I do that of government. The employer as a company I have to hold respect to. The entity pays for my life, and all the things that I enjoy doing, or need. If I don’t respect the entity that I work for, then why work there in the first place? Being paid for something you don’t even agree with is an extremely upsetting idea to me.  Individual who hold authority over me can sometimes be a frustration, and have varying levels of respect from me.

Most communications are conducted on public channels and are publicly available where there is a terminal available. There is little ability to restrict access to this information, and it is very difficult to hide actions. As such, social media is not the primary source of communications between authority and subordinate. Mobile communications are most common, with text being the predominate form. This leads to miscommunications. The biggest component to this matter is that there are repercussions involved in miscommunications. The wrong word choice can spell disaster to a career at an important point. People are forced to consider their words before pushing the send button.

Conclusion

One cannot interact with the other without being influenced. It doesn’t matter how tyrannical or insignificant the authority is, there is some swaying of opinion and action. Observe the events of the Colombian civil war’s end. The leaders forged a peace agreement bringing to a close decades of conflict. They were affected by the people they led. They discovered the need to  end the war and find peace. Social media brings authority closer to the people, and it brings the people closer to authority. This closeness always will have some form of bleed through. The mark of the people are left on the authority, and vice versa. Do demand an interaction free from influence, would be to demand an impossibility.

Bibliography

Davis, Richard, and Diana M. Owen. New Media and American Politics, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.

Religion, Media, and the Public Sphere. Bloomington, US: Indiana University Press, 2005. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 6 November 2016.

By. “Colombia and FARC Rebels Sign Historic Peace Agreement.” Colombia and FARC Rebels Sign Historic Peace Agreement. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

“The Arab Spring: A Year Of Revolution.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.

What is New Media?

Introduction

 

I walk into new media with a mindset of a futurist. My vision has always been far ahead. I see the world we live in and I imagine the possibilities that can be cultivated from society’s fertile imagination. We dream of technologies, and then we do everything in our power to achieve it. It is absolutely incredible that by imagining it, we can then bring it into existence. For every theory there is a possibility. Our limits are only our tools.

My imagination is my most powerful asset. I am willing to make connections where none was placed. I draw from personal experiences, and awareness of my present to understand that there are paths we have already crossed. Where today’s societal issues are the same as those in the past. Reading about the 1940’s revolution of the telegraph systems was like reading about the 1980’s computer revolution, and now again in 2010’s with the internet revolution.
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