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According to Oldenburg, an individual moves about through three basic environments: where he works, where he lives, and the place where he joins with others for conviviality.The latter environment, the place of idle talk and banter with acquaintances and friends, is often where the sense of membership in a community is achieved and experienced.We suggest that one of the best approaches to taking such a phenomenological snapshot is through a multi-method triangulation, employing qualitative interviews and descriptive and inferential analyses of message content. Rather than being constrained by the computer, the members of these groups creatively exploit the systems' features so as to play with new forms of expressive communication, to explore possible public identities, to create otherwise unlikely relationships, and to create behavioral norms.
Such designations reify the notion that interactions void of the face-to-face connection are somehow less than the real thing (p. Purcell (1997) also notes that the type and extent of social contact determines the richness of an exchange and that intimate, face-to-face exchanges have been viewed as the most substantive, and legitimate, bonding forms of interaction. Even though they are joking, and she has a good sense of humor about it, comments like that still hurt. She is coming early mainly so that out daughter gets used to having her around before mom and dad take a week to go through the surgery and recovery.
That view, Purcell suggests, is not accurate in all settings: Co-presence does not insure intimate interaction among all group members. With mom in the hospital and dad driving back and forth, we figure it will be hard on her for while.
Downing (1989) explored the impact of Peace Net on what he described as grassroots teledemocracy. Nelson (1994, 1995) studied the virtual communities created by disabled Internet users, Murray (1996) described the way in which nurses shared information and exchanged ideas on a specialized newsgroup, and Thomsen (1996) examined the uses and gratifications associated with participation in a newsgroup for public relations practitioners.
The often highly specialized nature of these online communities, and the fact that they transcend geography and the need for physical presence, pose a challenge for sociologists and communication researchers, however, because they do not possess all the traditional dimensions of real communities that have often been the focus of ethnographic and social research. When the researcher selects an online community as the focus of his study, however, where does he actually go and what is he really observing?
Wolfe (1996) points out that researcher/social critic historically has placed himself or herself as a participant observer, physically and intellectually immersed in the community to be studied and able to interact face-to-face with its members. In his seminal work, Street Corner Society, Whyte (1955) lived, worked, and even got married in the Italian slum of a U. The answer to these questions is the focus of this essay.
Robert and Helen Lynd (1929, 1939) went to Muncie, Indiana, to study a typical American community in their pioneering Middletown USA project in the 1920s. Others have gone into mental institutions, tattoo parlors, funeral homes, and inner-city neighborhoods in large U. Computer-mediated communication is changing the way we define and view the concept of a community. The change, however, is not without some resistance.Rather than creating communities, however, were are merely developing categorical identities or imagined communities, that are nothing more than the feeling of belonging to some group.He argues that a true community requires direct relationships among its members: I want to argue. there is a great deal of difference between social groups formed out of direct relationships among their members, although often sharing an imaginatively constructed cultural identity, and social categories defined by common cultural or other external attributes of their members and not necessarily linked by any dense, multiplex, or systematic web of interpersonal relationships. 107) In contrast, Oldenburg (1989) argues that online communities may fill a need that has been all but abandoned in modern societies, where the closeness and social bonding of the gemeinschaft has been replaced by the emotional disconnect of the gesellschaft.Garramone, Harris, and Pizante (1986), for example, explored the motivations for participation in a political bulletin board.Furlong (1989) examined the need fulfillment provided by an online network for senior citizens.In the weeks prior to the surgery, daily e-mail created a strong bond between Julie and her new friends.Following the surgery, Julies husband chronicled the ups and downs of her recovery by posting daily updates to the group.The emergence of online communication modalities also has fostered a new dialogue among scholars as to whether these cyber subcultures are worthy of our attention or whether they are simply ephemeral, imagined communities, too fleeting, too superficial, and too virtual to warrant serious exploration.Calhoun (1991) argues that the modern condition is one of indirect social relationships in which connectivity with others is more imagined, or parasocial, than real. The medias ability to broaden the range of our experiences creates the illusion of greater contact or membership in large-scale social organizations.Finally this paper discusses the epistemological and methodological implications of studying cyber communities.We will discuss how computer-mediated interaction, or telelogic communication, as it has been characterized by a number of theorists (Ogan, 1993; Ball-Rokeach & Reardon, 1988), can be analyzed to contribute to phenomenological or ethnographic understandings of what it means to be a member of a cyber-community.