Recently, I came across some discussion regarding the use of the word ‘community’ when speaking about the people who inhabit SL. The SL community, it was argued, is a myth – what we have instead is a collection of disparate groups, collaborations and smaller – specific interest – communities within the wider context who simply share a common platform: They are not a community in the true sense of the word.
I’m not sure that I agree with that contention. In the pages of this blog, I frequently refer to the SL community, and when I do so it is certainly intended to convey a sense of commonality, shared space and experience. I don’t necessarily believe that to be a community it is necessary to demonstrate similar traits and characteristics. To me SL, and for that matter any community, are analogous to a patchwork quilt. Such a quilt begins its life as a motley collection of scraps of fabric – they don’t match, may well be made of varying materials, some will be recycled from other sources, some specifically acquired for the task at hand. Our quilt will include leftovers and offcuts as well as squares carefully prepared, measured and specially chosen as motifs and accents.
Then we come to the task of bringing all these separate pieces of material together, and it is from here that the sum of the total becomes more than its individual parts, because this is where a commonality begins to emerge and where each of those individual pieces of fabric – no matter how wildly different – contribute something to the whole.
Each square of fabric is tailored to fit with those around it – some pieces, too small to fit, become incorporated into others – and all are joined together, quite literally, by the same thread, whilst beneath the surface an ‘infrastructure’ of wadding ensures a consistency and coherence, no matter what the outward appearance might say.
We have a quilt – a gathering together of uncoordinated, varying and even confused components, yet creating something that has form, function and purpose through common bonds that may not even be apparent to the outside observer.
RL communities are created in very much the same way, although rather than scraps of fabric, it is groups of people that form this particular patchwork – and those groups, like our fabric, can be formed from very different materials: Interest groups, age, locality, faith, social convention, status, political persuasion… The list is as diverse as people themselves. Yet all these different communities are encompassed in a wider sense of community that binds, rather than divides. In every town, city and even countywide, there will be that underpinning commonality and a shared thread that creates something greater than the individual parts. Often this is evidenced as civic pride, cultural identity or patriotism but, at its root, it’s that sense of belonging to something that brings people together despite boundaries and differences. Ultimately, as a species we can even talk in terms of a ‘global community’ – that in itself speaks volumes.
How then does SL differ from this model? I’d suggest that it doesn’t, although the relatively small size of our virtual world may serve to accentuate the differences rather than the connections. Even so, all the hallmarks of my patchwork quilt can be found – we may all be very different and gravitate towards very specific inworld interest groups and gatherings, but SL demands that we also share a great deal in common – things we cannot opt out of and which link us to our virtual neighbours at a fundamental level.
We do have a shared sense of pride, of belonging and of being part of a wider virtual community – and, like it or not, SL brings us all together, and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
John Lennon – Imagine