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Word Count: 485
In 1988 when everybody thought the only people who would use computers to communicate were adolescent boys with complexion problems I witnessed some heart-touching acts of spontaneous support and charitypeople raising tens of thousands of dollars to help parents struggling with a sick child shifts organized to sit and read to a dying comrade and other instances where flesh-and-blood humans reached through the computer screens and changed each others lives I wrote on Virtual Communities for Whole Earth Review and five years later published The Virtual Community Since then Ive been involved in public discussions in person in print and online about whether a community can truly be virtual whether that metaphor debases the meaning of community whether we are changing the nature of community itself by using email and discussion groups online Those debates forced me to look into the literature about community a term that has been hotly debated for over a century and that turns out to be harder to define than one would think Even if I had had the foresight to see the virtual community metaphors deep influence I probably would not have been able to persuade my book editor to let me use a title like People Who Discuss Things Online and Form Relationships and Groups That Resemble Community in Some Important Ways But Differ in Others Thats the beauty of metaphor it packs a lot of meaning into a small number of symbols But that packing process doesnt include the actual entire phenomenon the metaphor describes In particular when a metaphor attempts to reify human relationships to make a dynamic process into a concrete unchanging thing what the metaphor fails to describe can be as important as what it imparts In the fifteenth century news was a social event When someone walked into town everyone gathered to find out what was happening up the road Broadsides turned reading into a private event eroding a part of
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