Digital Spaces and Reality

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Digital Spaces and Reality

Postby eliana » Fri Sep 12, 2014 7:46 am

Okay, so I'm working on a master's degree in international literacy. Last semester I took a class on pop culture and virtual worlds in literacy, and this semester I'm taking a class on digital literacy pedagogy (teaching methods). This week, we are discussing a book called Reality is Broken, if any of you have read it, and part of the discussion is about the nature of digital spaces and communities and how people often connect more genuinely online than they do in real life. One of my classmates commented that, while digital spaces may indeed provide otherwise disenfranchised individuals with a community and a sense of belonging, it is often the draw of the digital that pulls them away from physical communities in the first place. I just thought I'd share my response, since I kinda talk about you guys in (don't worry, or perhaps sorry? I don't mention any names):

I too can see that point of view, to an extent. However, there is a growing population of marginalized individuals who feel like they don't belong for one reason or another. Part of that is simply the result of growing populations, but part of that is the result of the segmentation of society. Not many parents feel comfortable letting their kids roam the street until dark anymore, but that was a huge source of socialization that is no longer available. So what happens if both of your parents work, too busy to put you in clubs or take you to dance or something else? Once you hit junior high, most parents are comfortable saving money on child care and letting you ride the bus home, so you're even more isolated from the kids who have all the extra curriculars, and that's just one reason kids become isolated and spend a great deal of time online. There are also introverts who are so drained by the social interaction required by their jobs that genuinely cannot go out after work without risking exhaustion, but they can get online and interact at their own pace without the hyped up energy of shared personal space.

In my case, I was kept home over 50% of the time between 8th and 12th grade by migraines. Kids that age have a real hard time connecting with someone that they only see sporadically and unpredictably, so I didn't have many friends even when I did get out of the house. However, I managed to find an online message board hosted by a Tolkien fan site. It was a group of people I already knew I had a significant common ground with by virtue of them being on the boards to begin with, and there was a host of ready made topics to discuss, so the social pressure of small talk was completely removed. Before long, I was part of a virtual community to which I contributed freely, putting myself "out there" much more than I was comfortable doing in real life because I knew I was already accepted. I still count some of those people as the best friends I've ever had, and I've never "met" any of them. In a lot of ways, that message board is my home town. I long ago stopped visiting regularly, but every couple years I check in, and it's like going home for a visit. Nothing is ever the same, and it never will be again, but it's close enough to provide a great deal of comfort.
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Re: Digital Spaces and Reality

Postby Canamarth » Fri Sep 12, 2014 4:00 pm

Nice response, eliana, and glad you feel so at home on TORC. Feeling is the same here.

Just for future reference to such general assumption on the topic: There are as many reasons to immerse oneself in a virtual community as there are individuals out there. I can only speak for myself (and maybe scratch the surface for some others I know and have actually met on these boards - or met beforehand and then brought along for the ride). For most of my youth the Internet didn't exist for the masses, which I do count as a blessing. But I frequented TORC _a lot_ while at uni, simply because I had so much time on my hands while at work - I was working in a library and when there were no clients, there was not much work. I never felt socially awkward. And spending a lot of time online did not have a detrimental effect on my social life. Quite the contrary. I have met people on TORC that I got to visit in real life. And what a great enriching experience that is.

I know a lot of people who have met their life partners online - some here on TORC. How much more can a virtual community contribute to one's social life? And all of the more isolated or shy people I have met online have become much more vocal in their everyday lives because of the social interaction they 'practiced' online, plus the support they received from the virtual community. I'm not saying there aren't cases of people closeting themselves off from real life to spend time in such a community, but the vast majority I met certainly does not fall into that category.
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Re: Digital Spaces and Reality

Postby Frelga » Sun Sep 14, 2014 10:50 am

One of the great things about well-moderated but anonymous online communities is that you get to skip through all the superficial assumptions and talk to the real person. Their age, race, accent, clothes, hair - none of that gets in the way, nor do you have to work through idle chitchat before you can find a topic that interests you both. For an introverted person, or someone who is not very adept socially, this is a great environment, and can and does translate in the increased confidence in a real community.
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