Hannah Stirling

Media BA(hons)

05.A05. Technology

Have We Created a Loss of Community?


In terms of communication, technology has evolved rapidly and with it so has the ability to communicate via a variety of technologies. One could suggest that communication is vital for the survival of society. However it is the method through which communication with evolve alongside technology that is vital to its survival; it is safe to say that these methods are those filled with variety and communications technologies can take many forms, one could suggest that these different forms are simply a result of sociological evolution; just as humans began their communication with speech and cave art, other major landmarks of communication have also been discovered, such as the Telegraph, Telephone and wireless communication, and with the evolution of technology also developing rapidly, as has communication.

Firstly, it is important to establish what constitutes a community in reality; the obvious components consist of citizens, a sense of society, a hierarchy of power or control, a setting or landscape and either a combination or a set formulation of morals and values. These components are vital in creating a community, whether it be a country, county or simply a group of individuals drawn together through similar interests.
The most important factor is the citizens, an amalgamation of individuals who are brought together for one defining reason, whatever this be, it is what validates their existence within their community, it is their very reason for being a part of it. It is the commonality between peoples which creates a community and this is what has transferred to an online stage, citizens of one world are creating another existence within the virtual, they are becoming part of another community, something which is achievable within both reality and the virtual.

The key responsibility of the citizen is vital to the construction of a functioning community, that is their responsibility to contribute their individual ideals and ideals to their community as well as remaining within the boundaries set by those who govern it.

The difficulty, or perhaps the difference with the virtual world is it remains highly and in most part ungoverned, even within close online communities; there is rarely a hierarchy of power, perhaps only in social networking sites such as Facebook where there are options to report and block other users, this being the only form of social policing on social networking sites.
One suggestion by many scholars of this subject is a ‘loss of community’, which may serve as reasoning for citizens to seek community online, this combined with the technological developments that have evolved throughout the age of modernity may provide a source of explanation for societies transition to the virtual.
When discussing the effect of modernity with regards to social interaction and relationships, one could suggest that they have the ability to stretch and adapt and the new technologies that have evolved throughout time have helped in achieving this development, which could indicate a natural development within relationships and how mass communities use communication technologies, however even though this ability to be stretched is common, it could be said that not all relationships can withstand the stretch, this resulting in many scholars reading modernity as a loss of community. This opinion is shared by many academic findings, Delanty indicates that the term community, when used in a traditional sense, has faded with the evolution of modernity, however, he suggests that this transition is not negative but rather a natural movement, and with some sense of loss, community also gains new qualities and dimensions.

‘the modern sociological idea of community as a primordial and integrative world that fades with the coming of modernity.’(Delanty 2003, pg31)

This suggests that modernity has had a negative impact on community or at least contributed to the sense of a ‘loss of community’, however scholars have discussed how society and community can be the result of collaborative individuals and more reliant on the ability to form social organisations rather than merely reform to traditional structures of community or society. This suggests that although the process of modernity may have impacted on the loss of community within society, communities can function in an online setting as they rely more so on the formation of social organisation than traditional formulas of community structure.
One of the main defining characteristics of the virtual is the ability to digitally self-represent and create instantaneous reinventions of our real selves; another would be the ability to communicate in such a variety of methods, all of which are instant and without necessary immediate response. Many scholars share the opinion of Shawn P. Wilbur whom define a firm difference between the real and the virtual,

‘It is too easy to log into an online chat system and imagine that it is just like wandering into a local bar. It is too easy to login and imagine that it is all make-believe. It is altogether too easy to enter a virtual world and imagine that it allows us to understand the “real” one.’ (Wilbur 1997, pg20)

This would indicate that Wilbur, although outlining the ease of online socialisation; is concerned by it. It could be said that the defining qualities of both the real and the virtual and becoming ever more blurred as we continue to progress within the age of modernity and the technological era.
In conclusion, most of the research carried out within this field would suggest that although there are distinctions between the real and the virtual, the two worlds are capable of functioning parallel to one another, co-existing contently and both ever evolving. Another indication of this study’s findings would be that most scholars have outlined the difficulties of pure online relationships, where reality and virtuality never mix; most have suggested that these types of relationships cannot exist within the real world. It is important to point out that although the transition of many citizens of reality to the virtual worlds have progressively evolved in recent years, that this ‘result of modernity’ which we call cyberspace is simply another form of communication amongst communities and although exclusive communities are forming within the virtual worlds, these can never fully replace reality, we are in an era of technological advancement but we are still human.

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