Monday, October 08, 2007

Blogworld: Community or Network?

Blogging provides community.

I wondered if my recent article, A New Kind of Body, implied that by its title. Some of the bloggers I interviewed suggested that blogging provides community. The thought sprang into our comments, in the last post discussion. I've said simlar things. "My blog community."

But, on reading John Gatto's Dumbing Us Down, I'm musing. Maybe the blogosphere cannot provide community. Maybe it can only serve as a network.

Now, John Gatto is writing about the educational system when he says the following things, but I see their application to blogging...

Networks...don't require the whole person, but only a narrow piece.... a network asks you to suppress all the parts of yourself except the network-interest part— a highly unnatural act though one you can get used to. (p.48)

The fragmentation caused by excessive networking creates diminished humanity, a sense that our lives are out of control...(p.48)

...when people in networks suffer, they suffer alone, unless they have a family or community to suffer with them....the "caring" in networks is in some important way feigned....And, as such, the intimate moments in networks lack the sustaining value of their counterparts in community. (p.50)

People interact on thousands of invisible pathways in a community, and the emotional payoff is correspondingly rich and complex. But networks can only manage a cartoon simulation of community and provide a very limited payoff. (p.52)

Networks make people lonely....With a network, what you get at the beginning is all you ever get. Networks don't get any better or worse... (p.53)

An important difference between communities and [networks] is that communities have natural limits; they STOP growing or they die. Unlike true communities, pseudo communities and other comprehensive networks like schools expand indefinitely, just as long as they can get away with it. (pp. 62-63)

Truth itself is another important dividing line between communities and networks. If you don't keep your word in a community, everyone finds out... (p. 64)

Gatto admits that he belongs to some networks. But only ones he considers "completely safe" because they "reject their communal facade, acknowledge their limits, and concentrate solely on helping [him] do a specific and necessary task." (p.52)

On the other hand, he rejects "a vampire network like a school, which tears off huge chunks of time and energy needed for building community and family— and always asks for MORE..." (p.52)

So. I turn it over to you: my blogging community (my blogging network?). What's the real deal? What kind of ties do we have here? And, ultimately, does it matter?

Tied to the Shore photo, by Andrew Denny of Granny Buttons


Llama Momma's Community

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Blogger bluemountainmama said...

hmmmm.... my thoughts are that just as in 'real' life, out of the possibly hundreds of people you interact with in the blogging world, some of them DO lead to an intimate connection of sorts. i know when i went thru a difficult time this past year, i ended up sharing with people i met thru blogging... outside of blogging. and i even met some of them in person. and i also feel it is a way to do things for communal good...say in the instance of the issue i discuss- Mt. Top Removal. most people didn't even know about it, and now a lot are banding together to help stop it and spreading the word. although, i guess that could be considered networking...

but, my feelings personally, is that i feel part of a community and not so much a network. i really do feel a connection to a lot of the other bloggers and even feel like they are true friends. now if we ever met in the flesh, who knows? :)

3:33 PM  
Blogger The Gyrovague said...

Ugg...good point on both sides of the coin are to be had. I lean towards it being a network because If I drop off the planet and never blog again, would you know where to look for me? Community implies relationship, and relationships are most authentic when they are face to face. I know you L.L. Barkat becuase you are networked with The High Calling and so am I. You live in New York, I in Colorado. Can you truly have a relationship via computer?

A recent example of what I am saying is Dori at Whittenberg Gate. She was a prolific blogger, hosted several Christian Carnivals and then just vanished. Did she die, did she quit, did she win the lottery and could now care less?

I blog because it gets me networked with many other individuals, some like minded, others not. It is a great thought experimint and I gain exposure to ideas that the biggest pulpit in the world could not expose me to. I still need to unplug and go have coffee down the road with friends, or go in search of more friends. A computer is a cold companion when you are hurting and in need of someone to talk to.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

The way he differentiates networks from communities, I wonder what communities Gatto is a part of that fit his qualifications, and are not truly just another "network."

Plus, is he redefining or just clarifying existing, accepted and commonly understood parameters? Because if these are clarifications, I was unaware. But if they're not, po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Terrible at definitions (see disclaiming comments on my own blog). But I feel like there's potential for community here. I mean, I met Craver and Stacey and Zimmer-man in person after meeting them here, and it wasn't for any practical need--just because I felt like they were friends after the exchange of ideas in which we had already engaged.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

I like to consider fellow bloggers friends. I really think if we met face to face the friendship would surely mean more. But for me that doesn't mean a friendship can't exist in this way.

Networking seems impersonal. Isn't everything we're to do in Christ to be of a personal nature- out of love for God and love for our neighbor?

While this can't be community in the full orbed sense, I think without question it can help us towards community in our lives, and is a kind of community in itself with its limitations.

Surely interacting in conversation here is to have some kind of communion. And sadly we can struggle in our real worlds with what can be stronger here, in the sense of sharing our thoughts and what-not.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

Oh! Finally a book I HAVE read, L.L.! Now I feel like I'm "in." ;)

This book is one of the ones that really challenged my perspective on homeschooling and networking/communities. (And sometimes it was because I disagreed with Gatto.)

Seems to me that blogging is a mixed bag no matter how you approach it. To try to make it 100% on thing or the other is to ignore the variables of so many human beings interacting with each other.
Your referenced comment about "vampire networks"... man, how many times did I lug home an entire night's worth of homework, PTA papers to canvas around the neighborhood, and candy sales forms for the sports boosters. I think many of us inherently want our schools to be a community, but we have to spend so much time maintaining and manufacturing that community that it hardly becomes worth it. The real communities of family, neighborhood, church suffer because we're obliged to "feed the vampire."
I think, honestly, a lot of church programs can become vampire-ish if we're not careful.

Um... was I supposed to be talking about blogging?

8:46 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I think, in Gatto's terms that blogging is indeed a "network" in the broadest sense. Most of the people I have connected with on my blog, I do not have day to day community with, or even get any deeper with than in comments. But it is still great.

However, I have made a few friends *through* this blogging thing, who I feel connect me to a deeper sort of community in this world we live in. We talk to each other frequently, we pray for each other, I feel connected to them as if they were part of my community. In that sense, they contribute to *real* community.

When blogging takes up so much of your time (as public school does, as Gatto suggests), then it becomes a pseudo-community I believe, usurping your time that could be spent on real life community. That I'm sure we could all agree on.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Real Live Preacher said...

Pretty fascinating. Um, I guess I use a network to pursue relationships which may or may not end up being a community. I don't network for it sake. I write online because it is a convenient way to do so and people read my stuff. Some of those readers have become friends. Real, in life, bodily friends. I don't think it is possible to tease networking, communication, friendships, and community apart very easily.

When it come to the internet, you're either in there doing it and then figuring out what it is your are doing, or you are sitting around trying to figure out how to apply tags.

11:31 AM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

i think it is not either or.
it seems to me that community and network can mean much the same thing.

and i think that we are interconnected by the spirit so that we are all a community no matter how we communicate.

some of it is how we ourselves look at it or define it.

i think that community/network consists of many different situations and origins.

not just church family, not just blog friends, but all that we come in contact with in various ways.

we do not always percieve who is a brother or sister of the body that enters our day, month, year and becomes part of our journey.

interconnection is not always percieved at the moment.

we can be open to community being the body of Christ,

that includes our personal groups that we are in physical contact with,

and it can include other Christians that we are in contact with through other communication,

and it can include Christians that we never hear or see but we are in contact through the Holy Spirit under the head of Christ Jesus.

We the body of Christ, are a very big and spiritual community.

Priase God.

God sees all!

11:51 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

i think it comes down to a choice--just like any group of people you interact with. of course, in the cyber world, the temptation to reveal only bits and pieces is much higher, and the fact that you're not with someone day in and day out, dealing with their haliotosis or whatever, changes things.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

School is a vampire network? That's just wacky. Of course, school can be a perverted collection of superficial relationships. But it can also be a place where the Kingdom of God lives and breaths.

Blogs are tricky as everyone is saying--because blog communities are bound by artificial geographic boundaries. What you perceive as your blog community here is not the same as the one I perceive. That just means some relationships are shared and some aren't.

I really do believe that the Kingdom of God can be in these relationships as much as it is in any relationships in my life.

Gatto has a good warning though--that networks allow us to present only a piece of ourselves. I just take that as justification for how often I'm "off topic" over at goodwordediting. I'm presenting my whole self, see?

3:44 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

with a little more time for thought on this...i ended up posting on the subject of community and network.

4:47 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Hi, All. Oh boy did I get behind in the comments! I just got my manuscript back in the mail from IVP, copyedited and so forth. So I couldn't resist poking into it to get started (see, now I get to read it all over again and make even more changes). Anyway, I'm going to comment on some of the high points here then. Hope that's okay with you.

Blue... so blogging may not be a complete community, but an entrance to community?

Gyrovague... oh, great point about the lost blogger. I bet she couldn't get away with a similar kind of disappearance in her face-to-face community.

Craver... I think Gatto is defining community as those groups where we live and die together... family and neighborhood.

Jenn... lucky you! I'm still waiting to meet them.

Ted... agreed. I realized after writing this post that even if my blog "community" is actually a network I'd have a very hard time calling it that. This place just seems more friendly than the word "network" allows.

Erin... see, that suggests we may just be a little bit more than a network. You are happily showing your true thoughts. And I'm okay with that!

Andrea... isn't that an interesting thought. That the blog could be a community, but not if it takes up too much time... because then it takes on a networkish quality!

Real Live... I'm thinking that we also see variation in how people run their blogs. Some invite community beyond the cyberworld. Some are strictly business. I suppose there needn't be rules about who does what.

Nancy... I was thinking similarly, that somehow when one is a Christian it is hard to pursue anything as simply business, without bringing along some love of the soul on the other side.

Heather... or the front of their heads! But that can be a good thing too. Sometimes in "real life" we shut people out for surface reasons. In blogland, those reasons can be mitigated.

Marcus... ah yes. You've noticed Gatto's flair for strong language. Well, I think he means that some pseudo-communities seem romantic, but then they bite you in the neck and drain you of your energies. Blogging could do that for some people. And, oh, I love that we see and hear more than just a "slice" of you over on Goodword.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

I left a comment, but I see that it's gone now!!

Where could it have gone?

(Lookng under the couch) Nope, not under here.

Anyway, I think a lot of this conversation depends on definitions: What is community?

5:44 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

When I first read this post, I was in a hurry, so I'm a little late commenting :-)

I don't think it makes sense to differentiate absolutely between 'networks' and 'communities'. There is a whole spectrum of communities with different types of involvement and different levels of depth.

Blogging has limitations as compared to a face-to-face community, and I'm sure it's no substitute for real human contact. Nevertheless, we can have valuable interactions over the internet.

I don't like Gatto's seemingly absolutist demand that "networks" never pretend to be "communities". It's lazy to pretend that there is a strict dividing line there and to reject anything in the middle. For sure, things that lie in the middle can be dangerous -- you can end up expecting more from them than they can give. The correct reaction to that danger is not necessarily wholesale flight from such situations, though. It makes more sense to judge each situation on its own merits.

11:58 PM  
Blogger kirsten said...

I read this post awhile ago & have been mulling it over, trying it on for size, if you will.

I don't think I have any new thoughts to add, but would just like to echo that blogworld is what you make of it. I tend to think of community of the people I live with day in and day out, the people who see me when I'm sick, love me when I'm on the brink of insanity, and walk with me through the humdrum.

But I think this can be a form of community too. In blogging, you can choose what people see of you, what you share, etc. But when people come together who are transparent, honest, and all seeking something honest and real ... then I certainly think a form of community can happen.

I love the networking aspects too. I just think it's important to realize the limitations of any community (in the flesh or "virtual"), in that you'll get out of it what you put into it. As you said, we can limit ourselves, lie, or cut off real human interaction just as easily in person.

Just because I haven't met you doesn't mean I don't feel sharpened or find immense value in the interactions that occur on this comments page.

That's a lot of blah blah blah, but I just wanted to deposit my thoughts here.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Every Square Inch said...

Networks are about connectivity - it's basic and fundamental. Blogs offer a way to do that so in that sense blogging is about a social network...but it can be more than that.

Communities involve relationship, care, intimacy and support - some of which can be replicated (or cultivated) through blogging

6:12 PM  
Blogger Christianne said...

I agree with what Kirsten said. As I've been mulling this over myself, too, I've come to the conclusion that it works like it does in the real world: it depends on what both people want out of it and are willing to put into it.

What I mean is, in real life, I really only connect with people I sense a deep, authentic connection to and whom I trust to be true about the person they are presenting themselves to be to me. It's a risk, but a measured risk based on my intuition and what I have observed about this person. In blogland, I also connect more with certain people over others, and for the same reasons: if they are bringing a real, authentic self to the table to meet my real, authentic self, and if those two selves seem to "get" one another, then they become a part of my true community.

I've experienced this a lot over this past year as I moved away from my real-world, very strong community in California and had to start over in Florida. My community went online and spread into lots of new territories with people I'd never knew before I left California (including you!). So much of the vital connection to other people that I crave so much in my soul has been soothed and met through blogland . . . because of the people I felt that same kindred connection with that I have discovered in people in real life.

Hope that makes sense.

7:54 PM  
Anonymous spaghettipie said...

Oh, boy, I'm late to the discussion. And it's one I've been mulling over periodically on my blog as well in the past. I agree with many things others have said. What I find interesting is the assumption that just because you live in physical proximity to someone (ie in "community") means you are sharing your "whole self" with the people in your community. For me, sometimes it's even easier to reveal my authentic self online because I can't see your reaction. I mean, do we truly live in community with those around us? It's an idea many of us strive toward, but who has actually achieved it?

I think our technology is to the point that you cannot continue to pass off online relationships as superficial. In an age of world-wide, instant communication, you can no longer say face-to-face relationships are "real" and online relationships are not.

One final thought and then I'll stop rambling. To me, networking is about having connections to other people. Often I use those connections to get something I want (sales, a job, information, etc), but I might not always be actively using my network. Sometimes I'm just building it. Community, on the other hand, is about building interdependent relationships, walking through life together, sharing our joys and our sorrows, loving one another because we love one another. I think networks and communities can be built both online and off.

1:23 AM  
Blogger Martin Stickland said...

Hello LL,

So sorry I have not popped by for a while but I am still having great fun with this silly PC.

That barge photo reminds me of a great holiday I had on one as a child many many years ago, such a non stressfull way to have a break.

Have a great weekend!


2:17 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

I think sometimes wordsmiths can get too caught up in words...The distinction between community and network may be a distraction.

Who am I? How do I affect the spirits of those around me? How is my spirit connected to God's? How does the way I think, act and talk (or write)reflect that connectedness?

Whether one can characterize one's interaction with others as community or network,these questions can serve as a measuring rod as to whether the interaction is valuable.

On a "word" level, "community" always sounds so much more personable and people oriented to me than does a "network," (sounds like business). So, I think I'd much rather perceive myself and have others perceive me as part of a "community."

As always, I'm amazed at the volume on your blog, LL!

Blessings! Kim

4:01 PM  

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