machine that replaces the gears and levers of a typewriter with a microprocessor, electronic circuitry, software, and a display screen. On the floor is a
modem, which lets my computer talk to other computers over the phone lines. There are more than 30
million people on the Internet whom I could reach via modem if I knew their electronic-mail address. I
check my E-mail; Im carrying on several electronic conversations about this essay, and about other topics.
I check a few bulletin boards (there are tens of thousands I might look in on; I keep up to date with a half
dozen), looking for interesting information about computers and communications that might enliven my
essay, and keep it current. Occasionally I broadcast requests for information.
On top of the modem sits the telephone, and that, too, ties me in to an information network. There are more
than 500 million phones in the world, and if I knew the number and were willing to pay the bill, I could
reach any of them. And as I do my work, I almost always have the radio on, picking a station from dozens
of possibilities of broadcast entertainment and news. There is an astonishing electronic information
infrastructure surrounding me – surrounding us all.
But the electronic part of the information infrastructure is only a tiny fraction of whats available to me.
Every morning the newspaper is thrown into the driveway. The paper is an amazing achievement, more
than one hundred pages of news, data, photographs, and advertisements pulled over electronic threads from
around the world, processed, organised, and delivered. Every day at about noon the mailman brings mail to
the box at the end of the driveway. It has been collected, sorted, moved, and delivered: a traditional
information stream, but an important one.
Behind me as I sit in my bedroom is a wall of books. Each of them has its own story – each one written,
edited, designed, printed, distributed. The author of each has spent months or years collecting information
though all of the channels mentioned here, and more, deciding whats important, and figuring out how best
to state the facts, and how to make the case for his or her interpretation of them. Many of the books are
checked out of a library – an enormously effective information distribution mechanism, every bit as
impressive an achievement as the most modern computer network. Some have been obtained through
interlibrary loan, a system that moves thousands of books around the country every day. I swim in an ocean
of information. We all do. In this essay, I will be discussing about the communities that were developed
through newspapers and television. I will then discuss the communities that have been brought about by
hypermedia and how it has affected and constructed comm!
The terms communication and community share the same Latin root as the word common-communis. This
common denominator is important to the understanding of the process of communication on two levels.
First, the quality of the communication process is understood to be higher among participants who have
certain things in common, such as past experiences, values, and beliefs. These are also attributes of a
community of individuals. Second, the process of communication, mass or otherwise, requires encoding
(by a sender) and decoding (by a receiver), which can be achieved successfully only by participants who
share a common set of codes or language (Berger,1995).
Mass communications comprise the institutions and techniques by which specialised groups employ
technological devices (press, radio, films, etc.) to disseminate symbolic content to large, heterogeneous,
and widely dispersed audiences. As each new medium developed, existing media declined in use or adapted
to more specialised functions, but the overall tendency seems to have been for a steady increase until the
present, in the amount of time actually devoted to attending to mass communications. McLuhan (1995)
states that the railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society,
but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities
and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or a
northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium.
Television is stated to be the dominant mass medium in almost all advanced countries (McQuail,1969). Just
as the telegraph and the railroad brought people of the world closer together – with all the diverse and
equivocal effects that such propinquity breeds – so TV introduces the inhabitants of one nation to those of
another, thereby establishing a certain measure of common experience. TV allows us to share the
experiences of those who live at a great distance. However, a genuine village community exists, as Miller
(1971) points out, only through the local institutions which embody the shared interests of its inhabitants.
Such institutions more or less effectively exclude the participation of outsiders who do not contribute
directly to their upkeep. Confronted by dozens of channels to watch, the spectator becomes confused,
frustrated and finally, in self-protection, isolationist. One almost deliberately exempts oneself from the
concern which these programmes would otherwise se!
em to solicit.
In a study of community newspapers, it was shown that these tended to have flourished rather than to have
declined under the pressure of the national media and, in view of this, it became arguable that the media,
rather than destroying local communities, often played a vital role in their maintenance (Bennett, 1982).
Newspaper reading became a community ritual as early as 1848, as Lubar (1993) states. In fact, the reading
of newspapers have even been likened to a mass ceremony, a substitute for morning prayers. Anderson
(1993) has suggested that the activity of reading newspapers is performed in silent privacy, in the lair of the
skull. Yet each communicant is well aware that the ceremony he performs is being replicated
simultaneously by thousands (or millions) of others of whose existence he is confident, yet of whose
identity he has not the slightest notion. Furthermore, this ceremony is incessantly repeated at daily or half-
daily intervals throughout the calendar.
The digital encoding of sound, text and image, the introduction of fibre optic lines replacing copper wire,
the ability to transmit digitally encoded images and the subsequent ability to compress this information, the
vast expansion of the frequency range for wireless transmission, innovations in switching technology, and a
number of other advances have so enlarged the quantity and types of information that may soon be able to
be transmitted that a qualitative change in culture may be imminent (Poster,1995). The Internet takes
advantage of and harnesses the above technology.
Rheingold (1993) states that virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Internet
when enough people carry on public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs
of personal relationships in cyberspace.
The Internet is home to many virtual communities . These communities are based on commercial,
professional, and social ties rather than geographical proximity (see Appendix A and B). Since no two
people will have identical set of interests, these virtual communities interlock and interpenetrate in complex
ways. The rapid growth of the Internet has been accompanied by a corresponding growth in the number and
diversity of Net communities. Dery (1996) states that as many as a million people join the Internet each
month and there are no signs of abating the delirious pace. This expansion is due in part to the novelty of
the Internet, but it also reflects the real desire of people to interact and share experiences, knowledge and
A sense of community is profoundly enhanced when members of a group are able to assemble in a way that
gives them a sense of place. Online technologies which allow people to interact in a shared, persistent place
foster the strongest social bonds. Usenet newsgroups, which is a large set of discussion groups that are
composed of the collected contributions of its readers, develop a sense of community. This sense of
community arises because newsgroups have persistence, and because the group of people who participate
in a newsgroup changes much more slowly than the content of the discussion (HREF 1).
Robbins (1996) suggests that virtual communities represent flexible, lively, and practical adaptations to the
real circumstances that confront persons seeking community. They are part of a range of innovative
solutions for the drive of sociality. The online community both demonstrate a friendliness of a good
neighbourhood in the midst of an ever growing world, along with showing the active character. To be part
of the online community one must become a part of the discussion, otherwise that which is discussed will
be less helpful, and the online lurker will not be in touch with anyone else (HREF 2).
Sharing a virtual place is not quite the same as thing as sharing a physical place like a room or a bed.
Bodies need not be in close proximity, and they need not be enclosed by the same architectural or natural
boundaries. The crucial thing is simultaneous electronic access to the same information. On the Internet,
programs for broadcasting electronic mail messages to all the “subscribers” on specified address lists called
“list servers” sprout. They are like electronic Hyde Park Corners – places in which anybody can stand up
and speak to the assembled crowd. Electronic “newsgroups” were also quick to develop. Newsgroup
software allows participants to “post” text messages (and sometimes other sorts of files), much as you
might pin printed notices to a physical bulletin board. Shared “rooms” on the Internet often announce
themselves by descriptive or allusive names (like the signs on bars and other hangouts) – The Flirts Nook,
Gay and Lesbian, Red Dragon Inn, Cybersex, Romance!
Connection, Teen Chat, Thirtysomething, Born-Again Onliners, and so on (Mitchell, 1995).
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is one such system where “rooms” are entered and discussions are carried out. It
is a multi-user synchronous communication facility that is available to all users of the Internet.
Communication using the IRC program is written, and users are spatially distant, but it is also synchronous.
It is a written form of communication that is transmitted, received and responded to within a time frame
that has formerly only been thought relevant to spoken communication. Users of IRC have devised systems
of symbolism and textual significance to ensure that they achieve understanding despite the lack of more
usual channels of communication. Furthermore, a variety of social sanctions have arisen amongst the IRC
community in order to punish users who disobey the rules of etiquette – or netiquette and the integrity of
those shared systems of the interpretation.
Commonly known as smileys, IRC users employ alphanumeric characters and punctuation symbols to
create strings of highly emotively charged keyboard art:
: ) or : – )a smiling face, as viewed side-on
; ) or ; – )a winking, smiling face
: ( or : – (an unsmiley face; an unhappy face
: -( * )someone about to throw up
8 – ) someone whose eyes are opened wide in surprise
: – P someone sticking out their tongue
>: – 0someone screaming in fright, their hair standing on end
: – &someone whose lips are sealed
These smileys and symbols are many and various. There are also many commands that can be used to
navigate yourself on IRC (see Appendix C). The users who can succinctly and graphically portray
themselves to the rest of the IRC usership will be most able to create a community with that virtual system
Access to the Internet has even empowered disadvantaged communities within society as shown at HREF
4. It was discussed how a group of African-American women from a low-income housing development in
North Carolina used online communication to attempt to challenge not only the immediate issue of
adequate housing but their position within the unequal power relationship between African-American
women and white elite-dominated institutions. Use of online communication afforded the women an
opportunity to operate outside the local and exclusive pathways of information, discourse and social action
controlled by the institution of the housing authority. In a broader sense, their grassroots networking
activities online subverted longstanding local articulations of power.
The information flow on the Internet is controlled by those who use it. People actively provide the
information that they want personally and other people want. There is a much more active form of
participation than what is provided for by other forms of mass media. Television, radio, magazines are all
driven by those who own and determine who will write for them. The Internet gives people a media they
can control. This control of information is a great power that has not been available to the common
everyday person. The Internet helps to make the information available more accurate because of the many-
to-many or broadcast and read and write capability. That new capability, which is not normally very
prevalent in our society, allows an actual participant or observer to report something. This capability gives
the power of journalism to the individual. This new medium allows everyone on-line to make a
contribution. The old media instead controls who reports and what they say. Th!
e possibility of eyewitness accounts via the Internet can make the information more accurate. Also this
opens up the possibility for a grassroots network (HREF 5).
In the very near future, we expect to see many more Internet villages and communities, and these will be
enriched by even more powerful and exotic tools that enable people to interact with and relate to one
another in new and unique ways. Already we see programs like Net2Phone and CUSeeMe (pronounced C-
U-See-Me) that enable people to view each other (or other people) whilst even hearing them. Fujitsu and
Compuserve have recently announced a plan to create a graphical chat environment where users will be
able to construct their own individual persona or “avatar” from a menu of body parts, and that image will be
able to move around rooms and other virtual spaces and interact with the images of other members of chat
sessions. We can expect that projects such as that will use 3D effects, live video, and virtual reality –
whatever technology and bandwidth will allow to help people interact and collaborate with one another
The emergence of cyberspace challenges the horizons and the habits of print-based culture. It is now more
than five hundred years since the printing press was introduced, and with it came a social revolution in the
Western world and the foundations of contemporary society (Spender, 1995). As Marshall McLuhan
suggested in the 1960s, the content of any new medium is precisely the old medium that it has replaced;
and so, in McLuhans sense, we might say that cyberspace remains fixated on the traces of the word that it
ostensibly renders obsolete. It is thus a by-product of a tradition of metaphysics which bears us back
relentlessly to our past (Markley,1996).
We all need a sense of place, whether it be bounded territorially or in the “placeless” realm of cyberspace.
However, the bounded nature of virtual community can indeed be a transnational, transcultural
phenomenon. Perhaps the reconceptualisation of community derived from our increasing participation
within the realm of the Internet will guide us to a clearer picture of public vs. private life within the globe.
Although computer mediated communication offers some advantages over face-to-face communication,
e.g., no preconceptions of another person based on appearance, ease of coming together, and equal access
to the conversation among those participating, we find the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Indeed,
each of the “advantages” could be construed as a disadvantage: appearances do matter; conversation should
not be based on solely efficiency; and some ideas are more useful than others. Even such proponents of
virtual community as Rheingold (1993) maintain that face-to-face meetings can be valuable in the
formation of a true sense of community.
Indeed, it seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by hypermedia will serve a
cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation. Communities
seem more likely to be formed or reinforced when action is needed, as when a country goes to war, rather
than through discourse alone. Citizenship via cyberspace has not proven to be the panacea for the problems
of democratic representation within any society; although communities of interest have been formed and
strengthened and have demonstrated a sense of solidarity, they have nevertheless contributed to the
fragmented cultural and political landscape of the world that we live in that is replete with identity politics
and the unfulfilled promise of a renewed vita activa.
If nothing else, the expressions of hope and desire for new modes of communication such as the Internet
speaks volumes about the failures of present and past technologies to help create a just and equitable
society. Perhaps these failures should prompt us to re-examine why we continue to place so much hope in
technology after so many disappointments. Ultimately, the hope placed in hypermedia is misplaced because
change will occur not by altering the technology but by reforming the political and social environment from
which that technology flows.
Finally, I suggest that the term virtual community is more indicative of an assemblage of people being
“virtually” a community than being a real community in the nostalgic sense that advocates of the Internet
would seem to be endorsing. The main concern is that the public is more likely to forget what it means to
form a true community. If, on the other hand, virtual communities can lead to action, that may be the basis
for the formation of real and lasting communities of interest. But until then, any change in the
communications structure, such as the widespread use of the Internet, is likely to be unsettling. Therefore,
we must agree with Cooley (1983), who wrote in 1909:
“A rapid improvement in the means of communication, as we see in our own time, supplies the basis
for a larger and freer society, and yet it may, by disordering settled relations, and by fixing attention too
much upon mechanical phases of progress, bring in conditions of confusion and injustice that are the
opposite of free.” (p. 55)
Anderson, B., Cultural Roots in Imagined Communities, London, Versa, 1993.
Bennett, T., Theories of media, theories of society, in M. Gurevitch, T. Bennett, J Curren, and J. Woollacott
(eds), Culture, Society and the Media, London, Methuen, 1982.
Berger, A., Essentials of Mass Communication Theory, Thousand Oaks, Sage, 1995.
Brook J., & Boal, I., (ed.) Resisting the Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information, San
Francisco, City Lights, 1995.
Dery, M., Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the end of the Century, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1996.
Forester, T., (ed.) Computers in the Human Context: Information Technology, Productivity and People,
Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1989.
Jacobs, N., (ed.) Culture for the Millions? Mass Media in Modern Society, Boston, Beacon Press, 1971.
Lubar, S., Infoculture: The Smithsonian book of Information Age Inventions, Boston, Houghton Mifflin
Lyon, D., The Information Society: Issues and Illusions, Oxford, Polity Press, 1988.
Markley, R., (ed.) Virtual Realities and their Discontents, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1996.
McLuhan, M., Understanding Media, London, Routledge, 1995.
McQuail, D., Towards a Sociology of Mass Communications, London, Collier Macmillan, 1969.
Miller, J., McLuhan, London, Fontana, 1971.
Mitchell, W., Space, Place and the Infobahn: City of Bits, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 1995.
Poster, M., The Second Media Age, Oxford, Polity Press, 1995.
Postman, N., Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, New York, Vintage Books, 1993.
Rheingold, H., The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier, Massachusetts, Addison-
Robbins, K., Into the Image, London, Routledge, 1996.
Spender, D., Nattering on the Net: Women, Power and Cyberspace, Victoria, Spinifex Press, 1995.
As some of my resources were from the Internet, my Hypertext References are as follows:
Places and Communities on the Internet
The WELL, Rheingoldian home turf, hotbed of gnarly individualism
The River, a virtual community owned and governed by the users.
FreeNets Home Page leads to lots of resources for community networkers
Blacksburg Electronic Village, a state-of-the-art community network.
TWICS, a virtual community in Tokyo
COARA, a virtual community in Oita, Japan — far from Tokyo; less bicultural than TWICS; I’ve visited
them four times IRL. COARA members are starting to put up
lots of cool web pages.
OTIS – an online caldron of creativity
Cobra Lounge is one of the weirdest, wackiest, art-troupes in cyberspace, part of The
San Francisco Telecircus Scroll down a ways and you’ll come across Mamie”Minispoon”
Click your way into a whole nuther world, ChibaMOO
Vincent’s Hollow, a “text-based virtual reality” (MUD-like place).
CTD MOO is a virtual community for the Center for Talent Development.
Ubique is a commercial outfit that creates tools to add human presence to the Web.
Mix your real reality and your virtual community: A global guide to Cyber Cafes.
TurnPike Metropolis will publish, at no charge, up to one megabyte of yournon-commercial Web
The Spring is a young virtual community flesh-based in Austin, Texas. Station Rose, my zany
Austrian artist friends, are online from Frankfurt, via the WELL in California.
1. The Stone-Papers
If you like to be taken on a journey not only through the net, but also like to know your culture better,
embark on a trip to Allucquere Rosanne Stones small, yet brilliantly written ftp archive and find out how
to go on a Magical Mystery Tour, even Anno 1995.
2. The Well
The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link is the legendary mother of all BBSs. Though many on line communities
have made BBS-hopping quite familiar these days, the aura remains. A quality selection of some of the
finest materials on Cyberspace and Virtual communities. Namely Howard Rheingold with “Virtual
Communities”, Bruce Sterling, and David Ronfeldt with opinions on Cyberocracy and “Cyberwar &
Netwar: Warfare between Networks”.
3. PARC at XEROX
If you are into MUDs and MOOs, Xerox`s PARC probably is the right place for you to stay a while. A
whole world of interesting papers at their ftp-archive.Working a little slowly lately. But once you get in,
you are likely not to leave before to soon. Try it!
For those who dont wish to go through a registration procedure, there is a mirror site with older back
issues of WiReD-Magazine in Singapore. You never can tell til you try : WiReD-Magazines service has –
in fact – dramatically improved. I found out only after overcoming my reservations of registering real-name
with the editors.
5. HIT Lab
Getting slightly more technical, you might want to take a look at the HIT Lab, especially in what concerns
their development of a VR-display, using retinal projection.
6. Meckler on the Web
Yet another magazine on the web, this time more technologically and bussines- (as compared to Zeitgeist
and culturally, as in WiReDs case) oriented. No time has gone so far into finding out whether this is more
than an appetizer-site, though its first appearance is quite promising, not as promising as WiReD though.
Let alone the fact whether it is a lucky word creation or not, it might be convenient to ask the question of
what cybernetics is all about.
8. Encryption and Network Money
Everyone uses the buzzwords, cyberspace and VR are being reported everywhere around the globe, in
almost any kind of medium. The problem does – however – seem to be: Is there a commercial application
for all this? Carl Loeffler, in “The Virtual Reality Casebook”, seems to suggest “eventually yes”. The
question is, however more complicated for VR than for other usual products being introduced to a
marketplace. This is because VR cannot only be a product on the realworld market, but because of its
quality as an almost all (reality) embracing tool has the capacity
to become a market itself, reflecting onto the realworld economy or becoming an n-dimensional economy
of its own. The question then is: on which currency will this new economy run? Gather some perspectives
by one of electronic cash’s inventors, David Chaum. For a quite comprehensive overview, see the
compilation on electronic payment systems, by Trinity College (Dublin).
9. The Brussels G7 Mini-Summit on Information Society
Finally, the Governments are gearing up to create the Global Information Infrastructure (GII). With the GII
first having been proposed in 1994 by Vice President Al Gore in Buenos Aires, the Summit in Brussels
seems to be an important milestone towards its implementation. Though there is no saying for how long,
for the time being you can find a comprehensive documentation about the meeting on the Net.
10. The Tofflers
Whilst I don’t exactly wish to discredit this selection as being random in its approach, future-gazing
Toffler-style has won a new importance in connection with Newt Gingrich’s writing the forword to their
latest book “Creating a New Civilization”. Whilst this text is not available on-line, you might want to take a
look at an older interview with Alvin Toffler from the New Scientist.
11. Carl E. Loeffler
Hard to find on the Net, but – so I guess – nobody escapes Lycos, the searching system at Carnegie-Mellon.
See: Distributed Virtual Reality: applications for education, entertainment and industry from 1993.
12. Web Stars in VR (NASA)
It seems to be a good site. Since I have just picked it – and it seems to be quite comprehensive – find out
13. The MIT media-lab
Find out more about what’s going on at the Lab with the support of 20+ of the world’s mega-corporations.
14. Bibliography of VR
Very good! Compiled at the HitLab and available online.
15. Morten Soby on Virtual Reality
Possessed by Virtual Reality by Morten Sby, Research Fellow Institute for Educational Research,
University of Oslo.
16. Virtual Communities Sources List by Howard Rheingold
A good collection on the social aspects of VR and Telecommunication, available at the WELL Website.
17. Niemann Foundation at Harvard University. “Toward a New Journalist’s Agenda” (conference
Assembled in these proceedings from the conference are some very interesting thoughts on the future of
media and communications in the networked world. Find a file with an abstract of the most interesting
contributions (as from this bibliography’s author’s viewpoint).
CTHEORY is an international, electronic review of books on theory, technology and culture. Sponsored by
the Canadian Journal of Politicaland Social Theory, reviews are posted periodically of key books in
contemporary discourse as well as theorisations of major “event-scenes” in the mediascape.
19. Bruce Sterling’s Short History of the Internet
Quite elementary reading about the coming about of the Internet. Before going into the real comprehensive
materials, it is probably a good idea to start take a look.
21. Roberto Bisso on “Cyberespace et dmocratie”
This article is taken from Le Monde diplomatique in July 1994. It shows some of the applications of
modern networked computing in the domain of NGO-cooperation.
22. Hypertext – anticipated
Just as most will be amazed by the fact that the notion of cybernetics the way we understand this term
today retraces back to Norbert Wiener’s book, some might be surprised to actually find out that the notion
of hyper-documents has been crafted as early as 1945 by Vannevar Bush, then Director of the Office of
Scientific Research and Development. No doubt, Hypermedia play an important role of forming a virtual
community’s future media-landscape. An online version of his Article “As
We May Think” is available.