Posted by: Minna Aslama Horowitz | December 17, 2012

Collaborative Essay_Community Ties: The Local, National, and Global in Digital Community Building

By: Christopher Denholm, Julian Hans, Svitlana Kisilova, Yannick Ilunga & Banafsheh Ranji

2012-09-06-19-03-29.jpgThe idea and ideal of a community has traditionally been seen as opposed to society (e.g., Delanty 2010, 18-36). It has represented localized, voluntary, even emotionally bound connections that are highly symbolic and communicative, while societies have presented the faceless structure and order created by rationality (op cit.). As some critics of the idea/l have argued, the concept of community has been used to keep the individual tied to common values, even to mass inertia.

At the same time, others note that in our individualized societies, communities are more in demand than ever before. (Ohler 2011). Block argues that “the need to create belonging grows out of the isolated nature of our lives, our institutions, and our communities” (Block 2009). This position is reaffirmed by Wellman and Gulia: “[C]ompanionship, emotional support, services and a sense of belonging are abundant in cyberspace” (Wellman & Gulia 1999).

Etzioni describes two central elements to the formation of a community: “a web of affect-laden relationships among a group of individuals” and “a measure of commitment to a set of shared values, norms, and meanings, and a shared history and identity, to a particular culture” (Etzioni 1993). He imagines communities as non-exclusive entities insofar as an individual can belong to more one.

Zygmunt Bauman states that even the word ‘community’ conveys a sense of warmth and likens it to “a roof under which we shelter in heavy rain” (Bauman 2001, 1). However, Bauman questions whether the ideology of community is attainable and suggests that it is a paradise lost that “we would dearly wish to inhabit and which we hope to repossess” (Bauman 2001, 3).

The concepts of participation and interaction are central to the understanding of community and have been identified as a “reinforcing tie” in their establishment (Berry 1993). However, Bruns notes that there are varying degrees of participation in the “online, networked, information economy”, which can be identified as “productive” or “consumptive” (Bruns 2008). Dahlgren similarly concludes that the definition of interaction can be extremely broad and it has “its sites and spaces, its discursive practices, its psychocultural aspects”, which leads to them possessing a “fluid, sprawling quality” (Dahlgren 2005, 149).

According to Rheingold (2000), one of the few things that enthusiastic members of virtual communities in Japan, England, France, and the United States all agree on is that expanding their circle of friends is one of the most important advantages of computer conferencing (Rheingold 2000, 11). This, for the fact that on the Internet the concepts of time and space have been rethought.

For the past century, the mass media have been recognized as one of the key creators of ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson 1983) in terms of national identity. Jankowski (2006) discusses about relationship between community and media and the effects of mass media, especially the Internet on society and community. For instance, he refers to some approaches about the impact of radio, radio have been considered as a medium that brings culture to the living rooms or have been used as a propaganda tool. In term of Internet and new socially constructed media, it has been claimed that participation in interactive forms of communication such as virtual communities, has led to improvement of equality in society (Jankowski 2006). Although we do not know everyone participating in that community, we know the shared responsibilities, rights, as well as values.

Today, mass media has to a great extent become micro media. We all consume as well as create and distribute content, and connect with others through digital networks. The participatory nature of most digital media has unleashed the desire to create and share in us. And that desire, it has been suggested, is the fuel for digital communities (Shirky 2010).

What can be seen as common thread between Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’ and contemporary digital communities is the fact that, in both cases, the members will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them (Anderson 1983, 6). This appears clear for online communities in particular, where a real physical co-presence is absent. Even so, the members see themselves as part of group that shares similar visions, values and behaviors.

In the time when digital communication become an essential part of our life, scholars still arguing about the definition of communities that we create in cyberspace. Do people try to supersede absence of real-life community by online ones?  Analyzing vast amount of theories of digital communities we could definitely state that digital communities are communities which people need in their life. Interaction of digital technologies and people’s desire to find someone with the same interests, goals, dreams and experience, leads to emergence of different digital communities. Digital communities have a lot of advantages.

For example, there are no time and space limits. As Muller suggested, “in this era of virtually shrinking distances associated with geographical locations, it has become possible to forge connections with individuals that would not traditionally lie within the possible scope of connection.” (Muller 2011, 269-270). Of course, not all kinds of interactions between people in the online world cause the emergence of community. Nonetheless, Rheingold believe that “virtual communities might be real communities, they might be pseudocommunities, or they might be something entirely new in the realm of social contacts, but they are in part a response to the hunger for community that has followed the disintegration of traditional communities around the world” (Rheingold 1993, 62).

The digital communities also can help “to solve a real-world problem” in the digital social media world (cf. Shirky 2010, 41). That means that digital tools can coordinate human-contact and real-world activity. Examples for this idea are car sharing via the Internet and dating platforms. For acts like this, communication within the social media deals as the coordination of people, seeking the same good (a car to drive with, a partner to live with…). Through the Internet, the world gets smaller and smaller and the community still deals “as a global society on a local basis” (König 1968), but nowadays it does not matter it your location is rural or in a town, small or big: what counts is the connection to other people – your community. Online or/and offline.

The notion of community has been a dynamic notion, and there is not much agreement on the term due to the changes over time (Preece, Krichmar & Abras, 2003). According to Wellman, Boas and Chen (2002) the notion of community has started to change since the industrial revolution and as a result of advent of technology. The changes continued by the widespread usage of Internet, during the time the direction of change has been from local to global- based (Wellman, Boas & Chen 2002). Considerably, the development of Web 2.0 in 1990s has facilitated people who have common interests to interact with each other and shape online community. Emerging the new technologies and telecommunication devices, the notion of community lost its traditional meaning by providing the opportunity of communication regardless of distance and bringing together dispersed people (Preece & Krichmar 2005).
This essay seeks to explore how communities are impacted, and transformed, in our rapidly emerging digital age. Is the concept of community lost in virtual worlds, or enhanced by digital platforms? And, since digital communications tend to blur, even disregard, old borders of location as well as demographics, what is the impact of digital media in local, national, and global communities?

What Is a Digital Community?

It has been claimed that the methods we use computer technologies to create communities bears “remarkable similarities to the world of face-to-face communication” (Feenberg & Bakardjieva 2004). Both allow us to engage in relationships with others that contribute to our “personal development”. Ohler  (2011, 41) defines digital communities as: “[T]he groups to which we belong that are primarily sustained through electronic rather than geographic proximity”.
Another important differentiation Ohler identifies is that we make a conscious choice to join digital communities, rather than being an inherent part of a community due to “geographic default” (op cit.). Song recognises that traditionally there have been three main variables connected to study of communities within sociology: place, number of ties and the quality of interaction. She concludes that because of mankind’s lengthy association with these variables, “it is not surprising that interest in the Internet has emphasised its capacity to redefine community from its conventional dimensions of geographic physical space and face-to-face communication to bodiless, spaceless, and computer-mediated interactions” (Song 2009, 24).

Feenberg and Bakardjieva highlights the connection between the ideals of community and traditional themes in its philosophy, therefore they conclude that the debate surround digital communities is “fraught with political significance” (Feenberg & Bakardjieva 2004, 2).

It is widely assumed that digital community is a new type of community that operates on different basis than traditional community. Before defining digital community it would be helpful to clarify what is ‘community’ in more traditional sense. According to Delanty (2010) there are several major definitions of community: 1) Community as traditional cultural values in theory of Tönnies; 2) Durkheimian understanding of community as specific modern entity and “a form of moral individualism”; 3) symbolic meaning of communities in Turner and Cohen’s theories, where communities have a power to create links between members and define its boundaries. Therefore, community is fluid notion that changing along with society. First, community was considered as a tradition, then definition was changed by concept of modernity, and finally, obtained a symbolic character and nature. Despite the variety of traditions that defines community it always has been something that unites people on the basis of either tradition or morality, or symbolic meaning. Nonetheless, community is always has been specific forms of belonging.

But what exactly means “belonging” in that case? As Tönnies says, community is expressed in rural village life. The actual process of living here – rooted in natural locality – means being a community (Delanty 2010). Thinking about a village, you might think of coexistence, interaction, both in a personal way. The “Global Village” (first mentioned by Marshall McLuhan in 1962 perhaps was the basic concept of the contemporary digital communities. The center of the village McLuhan defined as “everywhere”. So it might be in “New York’s Times Square Office Suite” or “in the middle of nowhere” (McLuhan 1962). Radio and television began to spread their messages everywhere. Therefore, the condition for the center was only a TV or radio. What might this condition be nowadays?

Consequently, if we witness changes in notion of community and it transfer to another space (virtual space), what digital, or online, or virtual community is? How does it looks like? Virtual communities emerged from a surprising intersection of humanity and technology (Rheingold 1993, 57). One of the most popular definitions of virtual communities was given by Rheingold: “Virtual communities are cultural aggregations that emerge when enough people bump into each other often enough in cyberspaces. A virtual community is a group of people who may or may not meet one another face-to-face, and who exchange words and ideas through the mediation of computer bulletin boards and networks” (op cit., 57-58).

Various literatures have defined digital communities in a quite similar way. A group of dispersed people, who might be more than millions and are supported by software environment. Online communities are shaped around a purpose such as bringing together an ethnic group regardless of their physical distance or commodity consumption (Wilson & Peterson 2002; Preece, Krichmar & Abras 2003). Online communities might have various religious, political or social effects in a national, international or local scale (Preece, Krichmar & Abras, 2003). Gotved argues ‘ the communities on the Internet are communities of shared interests, which sometimes evolves into something more, for example, ideas of mediated proximity and the aforementioned belonging and scope’ (Gotved 2002, 406).

Communities in cyberspace emerged because people need that. The distinctive feature of digital communities is voluntary participation, because it is up to you whether to join community and participate or not. In 1968 Licklider and Taylor already define very crucial moment in digital community definition: “In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest…” (in Rheingold 1993, 65).

Rheingold (2000) has discussed one of the key differences between the traditional concept of community and the online one. In the traditional community, we search through our pool of neighbors and professional colleagues, acquaintances and acquaintances of acquaintances, in order to find people who share our values and interests. In a virtual community we can go directly to the place where our favorite subjects are being discussed, then get acquainted with the people who share our passions or who use words in a way we find attractive (Rheingold 2000, 11). Examples of this kind of virtual environment, in which common interests and specific language are used, are, forum dedicated to Japanese mangas and animes and, social networking service originally intended as a virtual space for musicians and music fan.

In Cognitive Surplus Shirky (2010) discusses participation, emphasizing the role of motivation, or what he also refers to as stimulus, within communities. The topic had been discussed already in the 1970s in the context of theories of human motivation. During those years it was claimed that adding any new reward to an existing activity would make people do more of it (op cit., 73). However, these studies made little distinction among different kinds of motivation (op cit.). As Shirky (op cit.) notices, money has been the most general-purpose motivator available. It is important, though not to generalize. In numerous communities what prevails is a passion, a motivation a ‘love over gold’ (op cit.), rather than economic interests.

Even though Shirky’s ideas of ‘stimulus and love over gold’ seems legit, other authors, such as Norris (in Howard & Jones, 2004), have noticed that commitments to any particular online group can often be shallow and transient when another group is but a mouse click away (op cit., 33).

However, there are scholars who argue that ‘virtual community’ is an incorrect notion and the emphasis should be made on ‘virtual’ rather than ‘community’ component (Shenk 1997; Fernback and Thompson 1995; Weinreich 1997). For instance, Weinreich rejects the existence of virtual communities because group-CMC (computer mediated communication) discussions cannot possibly meet his definition of community what is “a collective of kinship networks which share a common geographic territory, a common history, and a shared value system, usually rooted in a common religion” (in Jones 1997).
What Defines a Location in the Digital Realm?

Considering the definitions of an online community, the notion of location or space seems more abstract in these communities in comparison to offline communities. Geographically dispersed people create a common place in cyberspace around their interests, the shared interests create borders in cyberspace (Gotved, 2002).  According to Gotved (2003) in cyberspace certain people belong to a shared place, and ‘various locations are imagined through their address as a “there” in the vast online realm’ (Gotved, 2002, 406). Gotved also argues that ‘the visible shared space benefits the individual’s sense of community—the visibility of others and the visibility of oneself interacting in the space are crucial factors in online community life’ (Gotved, 2002, 408). Therefore, shared places that are created around common interest, goal or other subjective terms may be considered as factors that create locations of online communities. In terms of some online communities such as hacktivism, might seems that the visibility of them in offline world may lead to identification of a these communities by their members. However, they are still communities of dispersed people who get together and organize event via online communities.

Ohler (2010) observes online community as an ‘evolution’ of the traditional process of community. The author defines the first phase as solidary community, a type of community that took place during the preindustrial period. The word solidary is defined as “characterized by or involving community responsibilities and interests”. What followed, during the industrial phase, was the neighborhoods community. As people migrated from the fields to the cities to work in factories during the industrial revolution, solidary community began to fizzle out. Subsequently, came the third kind of community: personal networks. With the advent of modern transportation and communication technology, each of us began to build our own personal communities based on our personal networks (Ohler 2010, 37-38).

Nowadays, we are facing a new type of communities: the digital ones. Ohler defines them as groups to which  we belong that are primarily sustained through electronic rather than geographic proximity. They are highly adaptable in that they can serve as extensions of local community, solely as global communities whose members will  never share a common geography, or a combination of the two. Of primary importance is that people gather in digital communities by choice rather than due to geographic default. They are driven to do so largely by common needs and curiosities, from sharing common interest in someone’s YouTube channel, to enrollment in an online course, to engaging in a blog-based educational project to study international issues (Ohler 2010, 41).

Even though it appears that the geographical location is not relevant in the digital realm, there are ways to track down a virtual environment into a geo-political context, within ‘tangible’ borders. A world wide web address that ends with .fi, for example, can be connected in some way to Finland. Even though this is not a rule, and many sites contain ‘international identifications’ such as .com and .net, ‘national domains’ are used in the cases of government and administration websites (the Italian Parliament’s url is, the French one is and so forth).

If 20 years ago people still separated and distinguished their virtual and real life, now online is our life. We interact with people, searching for information, reading news, work and study in online regime. Nowadays, anyone who has access to the Internet and can be ‘online’ is in the place where digital community lives. Almost in all definitions of digital community such determinants of traditional communities as local time and geographic location is neglected.  Nevertheless, Muller (2011, 270) argued that excluding physical reality, we ignore cases when online reality “translating into real-world permutations and manifesting as an influencing factor in shaping physical reality.” In the example of the YouTube-based ‘It Gets Better’ project she described how primary online community caused some changes in offline world.

‘It Gets Better’ is a very good example of how “virtual communities [are] inseparably linked to physical reality and social construction” (Muller 2011, 270). Although not able to connect directly with every troubled youth, the videos by thousands of people could provide a point of support and positive reference for the confused and desperate kids.

But still it is very difficult to define the actual “location” in the digital realm. And it gets even more difficult with every new device, allowing us to connect to the Internet. With the Internet we can be on several locations at the very same time: you can write an essay in Helsinki while you are in the living room of a friend in New York via Skype and you can read papers on your topic from the library of the University of Bejing. We looking at the screen, we are watching movies, watching videos but do we “watch the Internet”? No, we are IN the Internet.

So maybe the location in the digital realm is more an environment or a public sphere than an actual location? As Law and Smith argue, “informal networks of public opinion formation have always been important elements in shaping the development of the public sphere” (Law & Smith 2006). Maybe Twitter or blogs are the digital location of the physically existing “Speaker’s Corner” in London’s Hyde Park?

According to Jones, to define virtual communities a distinction between communities themselves and cyberspace within which they operate (virtual settlement) need to be made (Jones 1997). A virtual settlement requires having (1) a minimum level of interactivity; (2) a variety of communicators; (3) a minimum level of sustained membership; and (4) a virtual common-public-space where a significant portion of interactive group-CMCs occur (op cit.). Jones concluded that, “the existence of a virtual settlement demonstrates the existence of an associated virtual community” (op cit.). Thus, identification of virtual settlement could help to define boundaries of virtual communities.  Yet, it not totally defines these boundaries.

The definition of a location in the digital world is further confused by the language that we use. Online destinations and communities are often referred to as ‘places’ and the term ‘cyberspace’ instantly conjures a physical element. However, Song (2009, 25) argues that although these queries are valid and help us to understand what is “real” or “virtual”, essentially these question are asked “without any serious attempt to fully understand online communities as a socially and culturally embedded phenomenon”.
Digital Meets Local

Massey argues that phenomenon of time-space compression actualize the question of “place and a sense of place” what directly leads us to the notion of locality in digital age. “Time-space compression refers to movement and communication across space, to the geographical stretching-out of social relations, and to our experience of all this” (Massey 1994, 2). Author believes that local communities are broken nowadays. He poses the main question “when you can go abroad and find the same shops, the same music as at home, or eat your favorite foreign-holiday food at a restaurant down the road – and when everyone has a different experience of all this – how then do we think about ‘locality’?” (Massey 1994, 4). In such situation people look for a “bit of peace and quiet” and stable place in changing world, where they can find fixity and security for their identity (Massey 1994, 4).  As Bauman wrote, community is always “a cozy and comfortable place” (Bauman 2001, 1). Thus, local community could be something that helps people to feel themselves secure and assist them in self-identification.
The Internet has removed the obstacles and restrictions on mobilization of citizens, people now have the choice to go beyond the local or national borders through digital media (Norris 2002). Nevertheless, everyday life predominantly needs local junction (Ishida 2000). Citizens need local communication in order to survive in the local space that they physically live. For instance, residents need local information, news and advertisement. Digital cities are the good examples of online communities based on local area (Jankowski 2006; Ishida 2000). Digital cities provide a platform for citizens to interact, for instance, communication between the municipal council and citizens was the reason for launching digital city of Amsterdam (Ishida 2000). Moreover, Digital cities offer local information, news, entertainment and local advertisements. According to Norris (2002) bridging and bonding are two functions of online communities, Bridging is defined as “widening contact with people from diverse social background” (Norris 2002, 7).Therefore, considering the function of digital communities in a local  arena and the definition of Norris, it may be claimed that digital media could play the role of bridge among people regardless of considering if they have common interests or similar beliefs.

An example for bridging might be the online virtual world Second Life. As Lessig (20writes, this platform began “with big blue oceans and beautiful green fields”. But then people started to create objects in there, they built “bridges” in both literal and metaphorical sense. By that “they have produced an extraordinarily rich environment that attracts people to Second Life” (op. cit.). But you can also build a bridge between the virtual and the real world. The Internet offers endless possibilities in order to “solve a real-world problem in the digital social media world” (Shirky 2010: 41). Shirky mentioned the online carpooling as one example and there are many others.

Another example would be Tesco, a British multinational grocery brand. Tesco wanted to be the number one grocery merchandise in South Korea but it has much less stores than its competitor and number one E-Mart. But how could they become bigger without increasing the number of stores? This “real-world problem” was solved with a digital solution and could even solve the people’s problem of being timeless: Tesco created virtual stores to blend in the people’s everyday life. Although virtual, the displays looked the same as in actual stores – and were arranged subway stations were all the employers had to wait in. Only one thing was different: they use their smartphones to shop. By scanning the QR-code the product automatically lands in the cart and will be delivered home. So the people can visit Tesco wherever they are and change their waiting time to actual used shopping time. As a result, the online sales rose by 130 % within two years (cf.

The virtual space is full of examples of digital meeting the local. Let’s think, for instance, at communities of players discussing videogames, whose gameplay scenario is set in real geographical locations (even though the real name of the location may be changed) such as New York City. In the cases of war, action and race games in particular, the digital actually seems to be meeting the local: the attention to detail and the way the real environment has been reproduced to the virtual game readdresses the player to the actual offline geographic location.

Another example of ‘digital meeting local’ is In this environment, people who have an idea that they would like to put into action seek for person looking for pledging (as in financing) their projects. Often, the digital post uploaded on kickstarter have a strong reference to an actual offline location, such as in the case of Save CinemaSalem, a project that aims at building additional screens to the Cinema Salem in Salem, Massachusetts.

Even the use of Twitter in crisis communication can be considered an example of digital meeting local. Bruns and Burgess (2011) describe the use of the social media Twitter for journalistic purposes as follows: “Twitter is used for the first-hand reporting of events as they occur. Such live tweeting activities now include not only the reporting of events by actual eyewitnesses on the ground, but also the second-hand live discussion of unfolding events as they are covered by other media” (Bruns and Burgess 2011, 2).

During difficult times, especially while being challenged by natural disasters such as tsunami and earthquakes, it appears that people create what can be referred to as ‘ad hoc’ digital national communities. Axel Bruns et al. (2012) have observed how these communities took shape during the 2011 floods in Australia. In #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods Bruns et al. (2012) analyzed the conversation that took place around the hashtag #qldfloods on the tweeting social media.

As it happened more recently in the case of hurricane Sandy, people tweeted, shared linked and posted pictures related to the hurricane (and floods in the case of Australia). The hashtags #qldfloods, #HurricaneSandy and #frankenstorm are the starting point around which the conversation takes place. Ordinary citizens and newsrooms engage themselves in news reporting activities: tweets, pictures, links and videos that describe ongoing events, give updates and information. Here the digital community (Twitter) meets local (Australia, New York City) through the uploading and sharing of information and content. Digital tools are now giving voices to people who were previously unheard. Mark Deuze acknowledges that this new digital ecosystem in which we live has led to the disintegration of the nation-states power and the rise of a ‘translocal’ network. He claims that “all kinds of forces and and social movements compete for attention, recognition, and cultural acceptance” (Deuze 2007, 8).

Digital National Communities
Castells (2008) argues that harnessing public opinion through Internet networks is “the most effective form of broadening political participation on a global scale”. He states that this communication space defines “the new global public sphere” (op cit.,  90). Loader and Mercea (2011, 757) similarly explain that the potential to create ‘digital democracy’ has been “significantly improved through open and equal deliberation between citizens, representatives and policy-makers, afforded by the new information and communication technologies”. Leadbeater (2009, 176) echoes these sentiments and suggests that because of the shifts in information flows, the web should “allow a more diverse range of people to participate more fully in democratic debate and create ways to campaign, debate, deliberate and scrutinize”. Dahlgren (2005, 152) suggests that the political realm is where the Internet “obviously makes a contribution to the public sphere”. He acknowledges the plethora of websites aimed at the “local, national and global levels” of which “some are partisan, most are not”.

Steele and Stein insisted that the internet will “transform economic, social and political life, including international relations, by creating new forms of community and interaction not yet imaginable” (Steele & Stein 2002, 25). Their prophecy of new communities and interaction appears to have been realized with the emergence of social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter as well as user-generated web applications like YouTube, which have transformed how we communicate with one another (Williams 2008, 682–686).

However, Morozov (2011) signals some concerns around digital democracy and our “growing dependence on companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google as the providers of digital infrastructure that makes cyber-activism possible”. He compares the current digital space to that of a “shopping mall” rather than a “community playground” (op cit., 62). This is a very important issue for the role of the Internet and especially for the role of social media platforms in creating a democratic sphere because, as Morozov explains, “they all have global business interests and eye expansion abroad. Being seen as the digital equivalents of the Voice of America is bound to create additional liabilities for them in important markets” (op cit.).

As mentioned before, the Internet has provided people with mobilization without restriction and in a global scale. However, according to Delanty (2010), globalization is not fading out the notions of state or nation. He states that ‘Globalization is not bringing about the end of the nation states, but is bringing about its reconstitution’ (Delanty, 2010: 121). Digital media are still considered as tools for changes in a national scale. Recent movements in Middle East show that how citizens use digital media to evade constraints on national media (Cottle, 2011).

There are also other examples of how digital media offer opportunities for national related issues. For instance, in recent earthquake in Iran, Tabriz, citizens called each other’s help through online communities, citizens have reported their visit from damaged areas and shared their photos and videos to show the extent of disaster while the mainstream media tried to underestimate the destruction and people’s problem in the area. People have collected donations by sharing account numbers of non-governmental donors and by photos and movies and sharing them via online communities, they have showed that people’s donations are spending in the right way. As can be seen, digital media do not only feed globalization and global activities.

Portes  demonstrated very well the idea of national communities in his article (with the example provided by Robert C. Smith). The main idea was about the residents of Ticuani, a small farming community in the Mixteca region of Mexico, who wanted a clean water supply. They turned to a private civic group, the Ticuani Potable Water Committee and with a help of this Committee they quickly raised $50,000 by small donation. The most interesting thing here is that the water committee wasn’t in Ticuani, it was in Brooklyn, New York (Portes 2001). This case showed how immigrants could collaborate with a help of modern technologies.  Author mentioned that “the Ticuani-Brooklyn network is an example of a phenomenon of growing importance–communities that span national borders.” (Portes 2001). It supports Iyer’s thesis that “taken individually, the urban and technological forms associated with ‘virtualization’ may be seen to be fragmenting the experience of geographic community” (in Holmes 2001, 5).

Furthermore, communities of emigrants or diaspora in general demonstrate how communication technologies influence people in era of globalization. As Knight (2002, 4) noted, “communication and transportation advances have made it easier for diasporic and other migrant communities to keep in touch with others in the ancestral homeland or in other countries where individuals from those ethnic communities may be found”.

Especially for Europe, we should also take a look on Attac (which means association pour la taxation des transactions financières et pour l’action citoyenne), an activist organization originally created for promoting the establishment of a tax on foreign exchange transactions. They are now operating in 50 countries and do have 90.000 members in total, 25.000 of them in Germany. There it focuses on bringing the problematical aspects of globalization to the general public by The special thing about Attac is the combination of its members: you can join them as an individual but there are also other organizations in it, such as Greenpeace. They are organized through their own website, where they offer a blog, a mailing list, a forum for discussion and own publications on special topics. Their public actions awake a lot of attention in the public and they are documented through the social media like Facebook or Twitter. The “offline”-movement is therefore very well connected to the digital organization, so that it is possible to take choose your own activity: do I want to go out on the streets? Do I want to discuss a topic on a blog? Do I want both or do I want to read and give money. The good thing about the digital networks is the possibility to choose your own way of participation while every way leads to the same: everyone takes part equally, which is different in traditional “offline-networks”, where you just miss everything when you are not present.

A very novel idea is the platform Here individuals, retailers and producers are able to offer or collect surplus food. You can also arrange to cook together, to share surplus food with others, instead of throwing them away. It launched two weeks ago and is recently only available in a very few cities in order to check the possibilities of this idea. Again, we see how digital communities can influence the society politically or (just) make the people’s life more convenient.

Even though the geographic location seems to become less relevant in online environments, the concepts of national identity and cosmopolitanism are still present.

Ohler (2010, 31) claims that cosmopolitanism is an idea that is very alive today, surfacing in discussions of global citizenship, global education and projects that stress a global perspective. and are examples of online communities respectively aimed at Italian citizens living out of Italy and Italians planning to move abroad. Nationality and space, as in geographical location, are the concepts at the base of the virtual environments. A ‘non-Italian’ would not be able to understand certain topic discussed, feelings or viewpoints shared between members of the community. In addition, Italians living in the same country (e.g. Italians living in England) have common themes and topic of conversation.
Are There Truly Global Digital Communities?
Another function of online communities mentioned by Norris (2002) is bonding; some online communities are a platform for ‘reinforcing bonding (deepening contact with people of similar beliefs or interests) than for bridging (widening contact with people from diverse social backgrounds)’ (op cit., 7). People shape and join online communities based on shared values and they are not confined by local or national barriers. One could join a rock music fan community from Finland and one could join from China. In particular, global movements, such as anti-war and anti-globalization movements show the implication of digital communities in a global scale (Kahn & Kellner 2004).

Global activists are not isolated anymore by using new media, Internet, mobile phones and other technologies and spreading their activities beyond geographical and media barriers (Bennett 2003). “Social-movement watchers agree that the new media offer new opportunities for international collective action, but are more skeptical on the development of stable, long-lasting movements in the future” (Aelst & Walgrave 2002, 466). As a matter of fact, global digital communities exist, at least for a short period, to bond dispersed people around a goal.

“We are alone together”. This quotation by Turkle (2011) describes the life in a digital community very well, although it has a more bad aftertaste than it should has. She also questions, how we relate to others and to ourselves and that people want to be to each other but also elsewhere. And this is actually how a community works and what it profits of. Because the people CAN be elsewhere and networking together at the same time. So the people from all over the world, with different views and perspectives can contribute to the community. And therefore the global digital community is changing all the time and is living actively, which – as Delanty (2010) says – is one of the main attributes of a community. And by this contribution of very different views and aspects, the community gets stronger and can therefore deals as the “primary source of strength for all kinds of societies” (König 1968) even in a better way then König knew back in 1968.

Nobody denies the fact that we live in the era of global economy, global culture and global politics. Then, why would we doubt the fact of emergence of global digital communities? Digital technologies give unlimited possibilities for people to build new types of community in cyberspace. However, if we speak not only about developed countries, such factors as language or access to the Internet could limit possibility to build this community in virtual world.

Castells presented exceptional theory of network society based on deep analysis of vast amount of data. In this theory the answer for the question “are There Truly Global Digital Communities” can be found. We started to leave in completely new era, in new network type of society. A culture of ‘real virtuality’ has been formed in our new society, where “a system in which reality itself is entirely captured, fully immersed in a virtual image setting, in the world of make belief, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience” (in van Dijk 2001, 7). In his interview for BBC Radio, Castells claimed that “we live in a culture of not virtual reality, but real virtuality because our virtuality – meaning the internet networks – are a fundamental part of our reality”. Thus, communities that were built in cyberspace become part of our real life and vise verse. Virtual reality is global phenomenon. Information in the Internet could be easily reached from all over the world if nothing limits this access. That is why our virtual communities become part of global space and turned from simply digital communities into global digital communities.

Potentially, online environments opened to everyone, regardless of their nationality, represent global digital communities. The first names that come to mind in this context are social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The ‘tweeting social media’ in particular, for the fact that people can follow other people without necessarily knowing them in person (in this sense Facebook is more ‘private, because users have to send a friend request to one another, and it is rather unlikely that people, who do not know each other in the offline world, will become Facebook friends). The real situation is different, though. When discussing the Internet, scholars have to keep in mind the digital divide. This refers to the fact that technology is not accessible to everyone, due to its costs. In this sense, there is no real global digital community.

However, Compaine (2001) seems to have a rather positive view of the future. The author of The Digital Divide: Facing a Crisis Or Creating a Myth? claims that at least two factors account for the rapid diffusion of Internet technology: steadily decreasing costs of use, and steadily increasing ease of use. In the coming months I believe that these trends will continue and that controversies about the “digital divide” will fade away (Compaine, 2001: Foreword).

Borgmann (2004) identifies three types of community: instrumental, final and commodified. He states that instrumental communities on the Internet proliferate “where individuals gather to discuss politics, or hobbies or to work in teams” (op cit., 9). Commodified communities repackage an offline experience for an online purpose. Borgmann argues that both of these forms of community are accomplished easily over the Internet, however, “final communities require the fullness of reality, the bodily presence of person, and the commanding presence of things”. He says that these cannot be acquired through online communities and “will founder on the shoals of commodification” (op cit., 63).

Many scholars argue that traditional notions of communities are “outdated and obsolete” and even discounting the Internet, “it is typical for the modern person to belong to nonlocal social networks that are multiple and specialized rather than solitary and geographically bounded”. In this sense, online communities could even be seen as the glue that enables certain communities to exist in an increasingly globalized world.



Postmodern age is described as age of ‘time-space compression’. Massey (1994, 1) argues that because of this there is “almost obligatory use in the literature of terms and phrases such as speed-up, global village, overcoming spatial barriers, the disruption of horizons, and so forth”. Digital technologies are the first and main reason why all these happens.  In such situation traditional notion of community should be reconsidered and expanded. Digital communities are not only new type of community form, but also new level of existence for them.

Considering all the facts about the substantial changes in the notion of community and its location as fluid concepts since the widespread usage of the Internet, we need to take into account the dialectic relationship between virtual and physical realities (Muller, 2001). As Muller (op cit.)claims, online participation is concerned to social construction and offline reality and has consequences as constructing or changing influence in the physical reality.

“The motivation to share is the driver; technology is just the enabler” (Shirky 2010, 79). This quote condenses an essence of digital global community. The digitalism would be the driver here, the motivation to share, to connect, to talk with other people has always been there and with every technological step, the way of communicating and therefore community building changed. So the technology (Internet) is now one of the enabler to let people share and communicate.

To give the reader an idea of how difficult community is to define, Wikipedia opens its article on community with the following: “In sociology, the concept of community has caused infinite debate, and sociologists are yet to reach agreement on a definition on the term (Ohler 2010, 37). As discussed, Ohler (op cit.) considers digital communities as the latest evolutionary step of the traditional concept of community (following the preindustrial solidary, the industrial neighborhoods and the postindustrial networks communities). The scholar adds that digital communities are the groups that are primarily sustained through electronic (op cit.,41), through the Internet. In this sense, the term digital appears appropriate.

However, it is only potentially possible to talk about a global digital community, because of the digital divide. The number of Internet user, and online communities’ potential members, is not the same as the total amount of the world’s population. For reasons of costs and use, technology is more diffused in specific parts of the globe, rather than others. For this reason, when mentioning the concept of global digital community, one ought to keep in mind that a global virtual community is only a possible scenario. At the moment, digital divide is still an issue.
The concept of community can be both lost and enhanced through digital platforms depending on any individual’s definition of community. However, this paper has demonstrated the Internet’s ability to create dynamic and resourceful communities that have established new methods of expression and interaction never before seen. Maria Bakardjieva’s studies into online communities have shown us that users “are able to overcome the narrowness of the communication channel and find ways to create personal images of each other despite it” (Bakardjieva 2004, 12). Feenberg’s and Bakardjieva’s poignant conclusion perfectly embodies my sentiments regarding communities online:

“Human beings engage with each other in many different ways, producing many different kinds of value in their own and each others’ lives on the Internet as in the real world. Some of these interactions have the affective and moral qualities we associate with community, others have different communicative purposes such as obtaining information, and still others are strictly commercial and minimize human connection”.

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