Don’t Discount the Digital Community

Don’t Discount the Digital Community

by Sarah Morrison, Senior Assistant, INALJ Alberta and INALJ Manitoba

Sarah MorrisonI’ve noticed an underlying feeling that pervades discussion of the internet, introversion, and community. It’s one of those things that isn’t always explicit, and I don’t have one or two “exposé” links to point to for proof. But there seems to be a feeling or undercurrent among some that the internet isolates people.

I’ve heard it directed at me, and directed at others, and referenced in articles and studies – get off the computer and go see your friends, stop playing video games and socialize. It still seems that, at least in the mainstream, communities that exist in the “real world” are privileged (as if any relationships online aren’t real!). They’re the ones that are seen as important, and meaningful.

First off, the internet has allowed me to continue friendships that started in the “real world”. I’ve been able to keep in touch with people from high school, and my various degrees and jobs, via the internet. We’re geographically dispersed enough that meeting in person is not a very common option, and I absolutely would have lost touch with these people if it weren’t for online communication.

I’ve also had the opportunity to join fandom communities that foster just as strong relationships as any I have in “real life”. My very first fandom was back in high school, and based out of a Yahoo Group. I’m now friends with most of these women on Facebook, and they’ve been able to help me through some pretty rough times. I literally would have never met them if it weren’t for that first online foray into a particular British TV miniseries. My online communities have helped me feel less alone, especially when I was physically isolated. It’s a way for people to find like-minded connections on a scale that just wasn’t possible before.

From a professional perspective, the networking potential is vast. Using online forums is a great way to not only get into contact with new colleagues, but also maintain contact with people you meet briefly. These can grow into not only friendships, but extremely valuable connections. You can, for example:

  • Keep a professional Twitter account, where you retweet items of interest and interact with other information professionals.
  • Write a blog and cross-post the entries to your social media channels, to stimulate discussion.
  • Use LinkedIn to curate your professional online presence and make connections with others in your field.
  • Use platforms such as Tumblr (or a personal website) to start an online portfolio, and follow others’.

People have different tolerances for in-person interactions – I, for one, am a “loud introvert”. I’m not shy (as anyone who knows me will testify!), but after a full day of in-person work I need time to recharge. Digital communities have been a great complement to the meaningful connections I make offline.

We are information professionals, and we have the tools to be able to responsibly and safely create, maintain, and grow digital communities and connections. Don’t fall into the trap of discounting the digital!