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