What is a digital community?
By Aaron Grierson
In a world that has been dubbed a ‘global community’, sometimes it can be hard to truly appreciate not only the size of the community, but the degree to which many of us are connected. Once, a community could be scattered along the side of a hill, kept safe from raiders and rising tides.
Now, we can explore these same settings through the internet. Though far from the same degree of immersing yourself in the sunshine upon the side of a mountain, we can still see and at least be brought into awareness about the locations from which many of our luxuries originate. This sort of technological capability is both a by-product and a major contributor to globalization. The relationship is reciprocal because the internet expands the web of connections while reaffirming the old adage about a worldwide community.
Piracy in the digital age
Despite this safety we still have our own ebbs and flows to deal with. Piracy, especially of the digital sort has proliferated across the globe, almost a symptom of globalization. With such changes in society come shifts in the responsibility of people. There are clashes over the legality of many things on the internet, from films to status updates. Such problems are ones of perception, however: who owns what and how it is to be globally distributed is only one example. The tangible world of the Silk Road is outdated in its efficiency having been overgrown by the spread of civilization.
My aim is not to upset anyone; I am aware of the troubling history that accompanied this expansion, one that includes colonization most often to a population unwilling to be colonized. To say that unpleasant things occurred, is putting it lightly. The bag of history has always been a mixed one, irrespective of time or place. It is doubtful that a majority thought the circumstances of the time were a good thing. Many were of opinions similar to ours today. However it is important to note that we are left with little physical evidence over any such conflations of opinion that have not already found themselves strung up on the web.
For whatever problems the past has left us we have also been left many benefits. Not to say they all stem from the internet, but our digital networking has certainly resulted in the expansion of numerous cultures, from music or fashion to pirating. It is important to note that most pirating is now done digitally, often for media such as television shows, music or books. For the people who have access to the internet, rather like the real pirates that still loot and pillage in the modern era, there is an increased sense of power, a freedom from the repressive system that forces inflated prices upon the heads of many that have to work simply to live. At the same time it is fair to say that people who partake in such digital activities are stuck in a greater paradox than some may care to realize. If they illegally download things to avoid paying for them but still pay a large corporation a regular(ly increasing) fee to have access to the internet, what exactly are they escaping?
Living in an “open” world
The answer, I think, is certain other corporations who provide less of a service for more of a fee. This is especially obvious when one considers the encompassing ‘services’ the internet provides. The magazine this article is published in is a product of the internet. Without it, such an exchange (between writer and editor, for instance) might not occur with as much autonomy. Further, a much more popular example would be social media, and open forums. Such methods of communication allow for explication and exchanges of opinions, and not always in a friendly manner (not that all of the opinions are friendly to begin with). If uncontrolled such mediums can lead to frivolous but harmful exchanges that have little to do with whatever the topic of discussion originally was. The problem of such power exists elsewhere too, even if it is more subtle, and even accidental.
Websites like Wikipedia are considered by much of the general internet surfing populous to be the biggest wealth of information since Google. And rightfully so, as it has articles on many different people, places and things from the past and present, stretching from old tools to modern speculative novels and their authors. Of course, even the Wiki is prone to reminding its readers that the information is incomplete. But this doesn’t stop people from assuming that it holds incontestable facts. University professors (at least in my experience) frequently remind students that the Wiki article itself isn’t proper academic work, but the footnotes can be very useful.
The reason for both higher educational institutions and the Wiki itself reminding readers about the quality of the text is because people are prone to making mistakes. They may be honest, unintentional ones, but even misremembering a date could jar the record of a historical continuum. It is symptomatic, perhaps, of people’s excitement of knowing things that they generally dislike being told or proven that they are wrong. Their self perception can be, for them, more important than the facts.
So gentle reminders to check the facts seem like a good thing. In a way updating Wikipedia and posting your ideas on a forum or blog has a similar end result: the information might still be there but the contribution of the individual is so temporal that it becomes indiscernible. The end result is the exact opposite of what most people might experience at the time they bring such work into the public eye.
It’s all for posterity
For all of the meta tags, hash tags, signatures and other personalizing identification an author might attribute to their work, be it a brilliant blog post, a mediocre meme or a frivolous forum post, the information can be lost, rewritten or just outright stolen. This highlights one of the dangers and one of the major differences between the internet and the real world. While we can bring ourselves to be presented (through written work, documents of projects or embarrassing photos) to the global community, that piece of ourselves can be easily lost because of the sheer number of people that feel compelled to do the same thing. The result is often a silent dissonance that many people might not realize. Or they may realize it and continue to place themselves out there, regardless of the reaction, just to maintain their presence.
The end result, as it may be perceived, is a back and forth between being seen and fading away. This constant tug of war is essential to the internet and all it can present to its viewer. Many issues, especially those of ethical grounding appear to us in such a fashion. There is a surge and gradual disappearance of most anything from the eyes of
the general public; perhaps, like those landscapes of far off exotic places, the full picture is far from understood.
So it may be safe to say that the problem of perception is a continual one with the evolutions of humanity. Our insights grow as we advance as a species, and with them, the potential to get lost in the flow of information and circumstance grows too. As with these dangers, the mixed bag of benefits and detriments of globalization and, on a more intimately known level for many of us, the internet present the same sort of problem. We have access to a whole other world, and through it, many different parts of our own planet Earth. Yet it becomes increasingly difficult as time goes on and global awareness increases to really keep afloat in either of these worlds. We may be akin to gods on the internet as individuals, even in reality as a species, but few individuals in reality can say they are capable of operating the same way many children do on the internet.
Perhaps our perception, however broad we may feel it needs to learn to better focus on certain other parts of the world, such as our own lives or local communities that we have access to and can act more purposefully towards. We can act but so often choose instead to talk about the freedom we so often feel we have but fail to regularly exercise.
Aaron Grierson is Articles Editor for The Missing Slate and is currently a student at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.