When physical and virtual worlds collide

Have you considered the influence of virtual spaces, such as online communities, on your world?

It’s something I have been discussing with an informal learning working party recently, for instance the impact virtual spaces have on communities such as international students, working mothers, working students and alumni.

If I think back to any major virtual influence of my world, I begin to think about the arrival of our first child in 2002. I had so much to discuss, learn and share about this experience- a gazillion questions about every detail from childbirth, how to grow up a human being, to the fine art of mashing a banana- but I didn’t know many mums. For a good couple of years I shared details of my pregnancies, birth stories, first smiles and nappy (diaper) changing horror stories with my online friends on a popular online mothers forum. My friend Penni (who also happened to be a local, but discovered through our online community) wrote a wonderful and insightful post about the community, how it formed and how it morphed from a large, public, anonymous community, to a smaller, more personal (and possibly time absorbing) moderated community. I even found myself spending a period of time as one of the moderators of this community (on msn.) At times it was great – there are some lovely mums out there. But the homophilous nature of the community was a little stifling for me, in the end.

A couple of years later I moved suburbs and connected with a positive, supportive local community of women. They’re absolutely wonderful. I canceled my subscription to the online mothers community as it was becoming more distracting than helpful. I’m still friends with some of these mums on Facebook and have met some new friends through work who blog or tweet about the demands and joys of motherhood. As Penni wrote in her post, now that she is no longer part of an online community “…with no windows or doors, I now feel like I live across the breadth of the internet, I feel like an Internet gypsy, not homeless, but that I have many many homes, some temporary, some, like this one (Penni’s blog) more permanent. Through blogs, facebook, emails, and other means I’ve kept in contact with many of these people.”

My friend Jo summed it up nicely, in response to Penni’s post ” I don’t know if these friendships forged online that become addictive are so healthy, I teeter between them being a great source of company, information, creative thought, and also of being an horrific waste of time. I *know* that I have met some amazing people through these parenting sites and that they have opened my eyes to new ideas and thoughts, as they have equally frustrated and annoyed me. I think that the appeal can be that you have a constant audience.”

My “virtual experience” as a new mum provided me with a good source of information and connection when I needed it. Despite the support of a great husband, I wonder how I would have dealt with a terribly colicky baby, wakeful nights and the transition back to work and study without the advice of these mums around Australia. In addition to learning about motherhood and babies, the experience taught me a great deal about the workings of an online community, issues around trust, facilitation, purpose, friendship, integrity and values.

So now, here’s a question for you. The segmentation and integration working party is interested to hear your stories about the way wonderful webby things have changed your life. In particular, how has the web impacted you as an individual, or company, or school – in a community (or tribe.) I’d love to read your comments, or please write a post and link back here!

“How do you deal with the increasing virtual world (web based interaction) and the resulting influence on your physical world?” Please share your anecdotes!

image originally uploaded by Elo Vasquez

image originally uploaded by Elo Vasquez

5 thoughts on “When physical and virtual worlds collide

  1. Des Walsh

    Thank you for the story and the word. I have to admit “homophilous” was new for me!

    What a lot of people who do not spend much time online don’t get is that it is a conversation. Or rather a participation in many conversations.

    I have more frequent and continuing conversation with my online friends and colleagues than I do with my offline ones. And of course, some are both.

    Blogging and participation in social networking groups, such as LinkedIn and various groups that have sprung from or grown up around LinkedIn, have given me the opportunity to make many new friends (not just Facebook “friends”) around the world. It has also provided real business opportunities and real income.

    This is not just a Facebook fad thing for me. I first truly realised the power of the Internet to connect people at a very human level when I had to undergo an emergency operation in Sydney, back in the 90s. I arranged for people in my main online community at the time to get a message that I’d had to got to hospital. The next day a huge list of get well messages was delivered on those old dot matrix folding sheets and a huge bunch of flowers ordered by one of the group who lived in Canada. How could I not get better?!

    I can no longer imagine my life without the online communities to which I belong and in which, to a greater or lesser degree, I participate. My life has been enriched immeasurably by that participation.

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  3. Scott Diener

    As a psychologist and technologist I find the reports of internet-based communities to be fascinating (and significant). People often give voice to the fear that we are losing community and “real” interaction because of technology, when it seems probable that just the opposite may be occuring.

    I manage large software development teams at a university, and I am increasingly amazed at the productivity gains we get from the use of communications tools like MSN Chat, Skype and yes, even Facebook. My team communicate in their daily work via MSN, even though they sit right next to each other! This has now become a ‘culture’ in the teams, and they rarely pop their heads up to actually engage with the other team members. Curiously, when one of them now opts to work from home for a few days, no one notices…they are still fully engaged in the team via MSN, and available for interaction.

    Until recently I had a punishing 4.5 hour round-trip commute to work. I now work from home 3 days a week, I have a virtual office in Second Life, and I am accomplishing more than at any time in my career. Try adding 4.5 hours of productive time to your current workday – it is remarkable.

    I’ve developed a complete virtual office building in Second Life, and am working on a strategy to allow all my staff to establish a work-from-home policy that is fair and productive. It is an uphill battle with HR, of course, but one I think I can overcome with compelling evidence.

    I didn’t mention, I also save over $160 per week in fuel bills!

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