Local is social…

February 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

This funny comic from Geek and Poke got me thinking about local communities and what it means to be social these days.

Barry Wellman, a researcher at the University of Toronto, has written a lot on the topic. “Neighboring in Netville (pdf),” for example, examines the impact that the Internet is having on social interaction within local communities and he boils that impact down to three options:

…The Internet is weakening community by leading people away from meaningful in-person contact; transforming community by creating new forms of community online; or enhancing community by adding a new means of connecting with existing relationships.

The comic above could be interpreted as an example of the first impact (the dystopian view where “the Internet’s immersiveness could be so fulfilling as to lure users away from real life community”) or the second impact (the utopian view where the “Internet has created a whole new form of community, the ‘virtual community,’ that frees communities from the constraints of geographical proximity”).

Professor Wellman argues for number three and describes how our online activities interact with and, even better, enhance our offline activities. The cognoscenti of the local Web often describe “local” as the place where our virtual and real worlds intersect and Wellman seems to agree: “People need corporeal, physical connections as well as ethereal, electronic connections. Netville is a harbinger of ‘glocalization,’ being simultaneously globally connected and locally involved.” Interesting reading!

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