Creating a virtual community

Howard Rheingold published The Virtual Community in 1994. The internet then was about email listservs and dial-in message boards. Facebook was a decade away.

The blurb on the back says, “All over the world, people who have never met before are sharing information… and forming electronic communities, based on mutual interest rather than mere geography. In so doing they are redefining the very fabric of society, destroying old hierarchies.”

I remember feeling really inspired by that, back in 1994.

But in the introduction Rheingold offers this warning:

“The technology that makes virtual communities possible has the potential to bring enormous leverage to ordinary citizens at relatively little cost. But the technology will not in itself fulfil that potential; this latent technical power must be used intelligently and deliberately by an informed population.”

“More people must learn about that leverage and learn to use it, while we still have the freedom to do so, if it is to live up to its potential.”

“The odds are always good that big power and big money will find a way to control access to virtual communities; big power and big money always found ways to control new communications when they have emerged in the past.”

“What we know and do now is important because it is still possible for people around the world to make sure this new sphere of vital human discourse remains open to the citizens of the planet before the political and economic big boys seize it, censor it, meter it, and sell it back to us.”

In lockdown I’ve been experiencing a technololgy-enabled surge of creativity and connection. It feels like 1994, when I got a Compuserve account and became connected to a global community of writers and creators. Long may it continue.

Note: I’m inspired to write this in response to a request from Portland-based artist @ghirschart He asked me to take a photo of a book. Gary is 4,956 miles away from me. We met this week on Zoom.