Tuesday, March 18, 2003

On Community and a World without Ends

I have to start by noting that it sucks being at the mercy of Blogger's servers. On the upside, my recent inability to post has forced me to listen to other conversations more carefully.

A few days ago, I posted a link in my comments to Trevor Bechtel's interesting comments around community and individuality, but they really deserve to be placed up front.

I have deep abiding committments to myself and to individuality. I routinely force myself on my community. I think that it is me as an individual that chooses to do this and I think it is a good thing. One reason why I do this is because I am so committed to my community. My community needs my voice. In the end for me those committments to community outweigh my other commitments, but for me, committments to community also empower my sense of self and my sense of individuality. What doesn't make any sense to me is thinking of having committments to self and individuality in the context of independence rather than community... I do want to speak of a community's story. This is unified in the same way that any story has a loose coherence. But different characters fill stories with life and the different characters don't always agree, they challenge each other and support each other... Communities embody living stories. I think that this has nothing to do with a single, large, collective mind. There is a difference for me between unified and unity...

Trevor also connects these ideas to a meme currently making the rounds: the Internet as a world of ends.

I don't think I am an end of the Internet. I feel more like a point on a curve. I shift and sway as other points, bigger and smaller exert gravity on me.

AKMA continues this thread by writing:

[T]he whole individual/community discussion fails, to the extent that it adheres to these binary alternatives (or even, as I will propose, a spectrum between the two poles). Non-binary! ...No doubt you all can identify other dimensions of being a person that donít reduce to I vs. C, but which intersect, bend, warp, twist that axis and along with all the other characteristics, in deeply complex and particular ways... the World of Ends consists not in independent individuals who are the stopping-point of action and discourse, but to pools of shared interests, to groups of sympathetic friends, to communities where one memberís grief and fear and loss are shared and addressed by the whole network of participants. Itís not a World of Ends, itís a World without Ends, all the more so on the Web, where weíre so persistently joined with one another...

And I responded that "I couldn't agree more that we are living and describing a world without ends, rather than a world of ends. I admit to finding binary constructions inadequate, not least because they suffocate a gentle part of me that strives for flexibility and tolerance. I believe in individual and collective spirit, but only if they allow and account for a wide diversity of constantly changing interests and experiences. Recent travels brought to my attention how difficult it can be to distinguish between social presence and absence. With mobile technologies, interactional contexts appear voluptuous, taking place not within the boundaries (or ends) of here *or* there, but in shifting spaces of the here-and-there. And I've always believed that being social, in large part, involves what we are able to be in the presence and absence of others. I also believe that to draw clear distinctions between individual and community tends to deny our experiences and potentials in the world."


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