Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions i aim to explore in the following weeks to come, the irony in the title is the exact type of irony that typifies the idea of the internet today I will be focusing on virtual places- community.
Community as defined by Lemos, now signifies a social collectivity..in which the contract, institutionalisation, a common project, a certain utopian optimism, the appearance of proximity, a physical territoriality and form of communication which are direct or almost unmediated, prevail. (1996) This definition is half right in todays context. The context of our way of living today is highly mediated by digital technology. Digital technology abets cyberspace. Marcos Novak describes cyberspace as a platform enabling full copresence and interaction of multiple users allowing input and output from and to the human sensorium permitting simulations of real and virtual realities (1992, 225) There are two things that stand out in Lemos definition from Novak’s description of cyberspace when it comes to appropriating the definition of community to cyberspace- the appearance of proximity and physical territoriality. Cyberspace is a form of communication that has within it diverse forms of communication and social media is a headline example. It also holds an utopian optimism, one of which permits an irony of escapism- escape into this virtual space where we can be ourselves and many others- I will be exploring this concept more in my next posts to come, for now lets focus on community.
Lemos definition is challenged here because of the context of culture today. The appearance of proximity is also apparent in cyberspace. The way the social media timelines are structured, Facebook for instant, vertically sliding upward for recent updates and downwards for previous updates, gives a sense of real time. Within this timeline we see and engage with multiple users, users we do not necessarily have to interact with but their presence and confessions on our timeline makes their presence real to us.
Facebook makes a good case study when trying to understand proximity in virtual space. Since its wide acceptance in September 2006, a time when Facebook opened up the social site from the education institutions to the wide public allowing access through personal emails, Facebook has become increasingly popular in the work place to the family unit and also, undoubtedly, advertisers and capitalist. Why Facebook makes a good example for me to use to explain proximity has to do with my personal experience with this site. I have had Facebook since 2009, i was aged 17 at this time, about to conclude my secondary school education whilst I was in Nigeria. Since I came to England, I have only kept in contact with my high school friends through Facebook.
This is just part of my digital experience with this site- to further understand this sense of community I decided to explore digital experience from an others perspective thats not mine by talking with two female students, both studying criminology. My talk with Rebecca, who I will be focusing on, gave me an interesting insight into her digital experience which allowed me to think further about proximity.
Rebecca is from Malta, born and raised. She left Malta to pursue her studies in England and so is always far from home- family and friends. Being a Law student, our conversation took the form of a debate. I stated that our physical communities can be likened to online communities and she disagreed. So I decided to focus on her Malta community to try and explain my point. She said, ‘I left Malta to study in the UK because if I didn’t i will probably have to get married to someone and remain in Malta with my family’ She told me anytime she goes back home and sees her old friends it is always awkward because they hadn’t seen each other for up to a year. This is the part I personally found amusing. The way virtual technology works there does not have to be a catch up between Rebecca and her friends because she can see them and everything they are up to in real time, virtually. She said to me she left her community to further her studies but then i replied ‘you never really left’; you see Rebecca physically removed herself from this community but on Facebook, online, she is still very much in this community. I asked her if she sees them all the time on Facebook and she said yes- these friends (which she is inherently avoiding to get away from Malta) are within her proximity- virtual space, real time and even personal relationship.
Virtual technology expands of idea of what community means. It takes the possibilities of culture to greater lengths, being part of identity is not by birth, race or cultural background in the virtual world. It is by act of performance for a desire to belong, a desire for attachment to fill among a cohort of your using. This desire for attachment starts from the individual and his extension- his/her phone, and then diffuses into the virtual space where we can feel like ourselves within our cohort, or online community.
My experience with World of Warcraft as it pertains to community was one of isolation. The fact that I am the only dwarf in class does not help at all, and also that this is my first time playing this game, made it even worse. In my virtual world I felt lost and I tried talking to other players, but they were not really nice and just told me to go kill something. Everyone in class seemed to be getting on fine but i was just getting used to my new world and new body in which i had no friends. This did start to upset me because i was really trying to get into the game, reflecting now, as i felt in the virtual world- lost and isolated is how i felt in class, real space. How these virtual feelings unmaterialise their self in our real lives is what I will be getting into in my next post.
Hillis, K. (1999) Digital Sensations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press