Wellman 1997 Net Surfers - NET SURFERS DON'T RIDE ALONE VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AS COMMUNITIES Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia August 1997 Department of

Wellman 1997 Net Surfers - NET SURFERS DON'T RIDE ALONE...

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NET SURFERS DON'T RIDE ALONE: VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AS COMMUNITIES Barry Wellman and Milena Gulia August, 1997 Department of Sociology and Centre for Urban and Community Studies University of Toronto Toronto, Canada M5S 1A1 [email protected] [email protected] Published, 1999, in ! Communities and Cyberspace, edited by Peter Kollock and Marc Smith. New York: Routledge ! Networks in the Global Village, edited by Barry Wellman. Boulder, CO: Westview. Acknowledgments We have benefited from the advice of our current colleagues on the Computer Networks as Social Networks project: Janet Salaff, Dimitrina Dimitrova, Emmanuel Koku, Laura Garton and Caroline Haythornthwaite. We appreciate the advice provided by Peter Kollock and Mark Smith, and by our computer science colleagues in the now-completed Cavecat and Telepresence projects: Ronald Baecker, William Buxton, Marilyn Mantei and Gale Moore. Financial support for this paper has been provided by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (General and Strategic grants), Bell Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Information Technology Research Centre. We dedicate this chapter to science-fiction personage Judith Merril who net surfed for fifty years until her death in Sept., 1997.
1 Message on the Net to the Apple Internet Users distribution list, August 3, 1995. Fittingly, the message was forwarded to Wellman in Toronto by Steven Friedman, a DL member and friend of Wellman's who lives in Israel. Yet the interaction is not solely a product of virtual community. The relationship between Wellman and Friedman developed out of a close childhood friendship of Wellman's wife and was reinforced when the Wellmans spent April, 1995 visiting Israel. NET SURFERS DON'T RIDE ALONE: VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES AS COMMUNITIES Hope, Hype and Reality Can people find community on-line in the Internet? Can relationships between people who never see, smell or hear each other be supportive and intimate? The debate fills the Internet, the airwaves, and especially the print media. Enthusiasts outnumber critics, for as the prophet Jeremiah discovered millennia ago, there is more immediate reward in praising the future than in denouncing it. Unfortunately, both sides of the current debate are often Manichean, presentist, unscholarly and parochial . The Manicheans on either side of this debate assert that the Internet either will create wonderful new forms of community or will destroy community altogether. These dueling dualists feed off each other, using the unequivocal assertions of the other side as foils for their own arguments. Their statements of enthusiasm or criticism leave little room for the moderate, mixed situations that may be the reality. The up-to-the-minute participants in this breathless debate appear to be unaware that they are continuing a century-old controversy about the nature of community, although with new debating partners. There is little sense of history.

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