We had a discussion with Christopher Titmuss the other day, in which he talked about community. Someone raised the issue of “virtual community”, implying that his focus on real community might be a little backward-looking in the light of the advent of virtual communities. They gave the example of people in need being helped by crowd-funding. Titmus in his response focused on the surveillance capitalism aspects of Facebook and popular platforms. He said this was a poor substitute for real community, and that we should not delude ourselves into believing that there is any real community to be found in platforms intended only for the gain of their owners. He said that if he uses these platforms it is only to send announcements.
I found myself asking whether this applied to alternative internet social networks that lack profit motivation. I think he probably is not aware of such possibilities but that it is just as likely that he would still think them a poor substitute for real community.
I personally haven’t found in the alternative social networks a solution but would not discount the possibility that they might provide a fair solution to develop a planet wide community. But actually I’m beginning to think that the internet itself, or the web that lives on it, is our best and widest social network, rather than limit oneself to little islands. We should develop tools that harness the power of the whole web, rather than encampments. The Indie Web movement probably has the best ideas about how to do that. Because the problem is, on the vastness of the web, how do we find each other? Right now only spambots seem to manage to find my web page. And probably there are also bots and spiders operated by government security services that search for keywords. And other bad actors.
The internet is the closest we have come to networking human consciousness. It contains our worst and finest human traits, ideas, potential, everything. There is a wonderful opportunity there to contribute to raising our collective consciousness, just as there are opportunities to degrading it.