Virtual communities are the latest rage in personal interaction.They are an attempt to prevent some of the alienation caused by society. The internet connection today is multiplying at a fast rate. People realise that there is some value in getting to know people through the internet. So, what is a virtual community? Many people do not know that the "virtual community" is the future of personal interactions: a way for people to meet other people. Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, defines virtual communities as: ‘the social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.’ ( Rheingold, 1993: 5) Virtual communities are groups of people with a shared interest in a hobby, profession, or a product who get and share ideas online. People can go to their terminals at anytime and use the computer themselves. Before we even consider the benefits of the virtual community, we must first look into the advantages and disadvantages of the virtual world. Advantages: (1) The technology is a powerful tool which brings an enormous amount of everyday people together. (2) Provides a virtual meeting place for people to discuss topics of interest. (3) Allows participation of people at their own convenience. (4) Allows people from all over the world to meet - no geographical boundaries to hinder interaction. (5) Prevents racial, age, sexual discrimination and disabilities. (6) Provides a sense of anonymity. Disadvantages: (1) Netting requires knowledge of reading, writing and typing. (2) Discrimination is still present but not obvious. (3) Must have a computer, or access to a computer. Hence with all those factors kept in mind, we see that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Furthermore, the technology allows people of all walks of like to commune and interact with one another without the geographical hindrance.
What are the benefits of such a virtual community? In a research done by the Computer Networking and Scholarly Communication in the 21st Century University, “Students who find themselves more comfortable in an oral medium are often "at home" on these programs due to the similarity to oral utterances. Students often purposely disregard conventions of edited English, spelling phonetically, not using capitalisation or other punctuation, often in an effort to create a sort of "voice". Yet they are usually quick to clarify if someone doesn't understand what they meant. (http://www.missouri.edu/~wleric/cnsc21/benefits.html) They also found out that students found that building a virtual community meant that they attract people from all over the world to communicate. According to Howard Rheingold, the technology which makes the virtual community possible is the potential to bring people from all over the world from different walks of life together. “Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.” (Rheingold: http:// www.well.com/user/hlr/vcbook/vcbookintro.html) The virtual community provides people with a new way of communicating just like the telegraph, telephone and televisions did. Because of its potential influence on millions of people, the net has been connected to the future of community, democracy, education, science and intellectual life. (Rheingold: http:// www.well.com/user/hlr/vcbook/vcbookintro.html) The benefits of the virtual community to society are that they provide a forum for discussion of topics that interest others on an open scale. They allow people to meet and discuss topics in a convenient way. Virtual communities are giving people the chance to interact in a way which will never take place without the computer and the respective virtual community of choice. Not only does the virtual community benefit the individual, it also benefits businesses. It provides better service and streamlining in-house processes. Virtual communities are able to provide to online colleagues for employees in an organisation. They also deal with equipment or software packages. This is a convenient and efficient way for companies to provide support for products and for customers to communicate with the company. One example of a company which does this is CompuServe. This helps businesses save money and members of the professional organisation can hold meetings for discussions without having to step out of the office.
To conclude, the virtual communities of the world has indeed helped people of all walks of life accept the fact that there is life on the other side of the computer screen than mere words being typed. Life that involves real emotions, human beings that are capable of feeling hurt, intellectual individuals and personalities. Well, enough said about the concepts of virtual communities. If we haven’t convinced anyone at all then we think it’s time to walk to the edge of the road, try to hitch a ride and be on our way out.
Click here to get connected: