Virtual Communities are “Real” Communities

Life in the era of extensive use of information, computers and the Internet has surely undergone certain changes. Before the invention of computers people had no idea about the existence of other reality than usual reality they used to live in. Nowadays, everybody is aware of the second reality, so-called virtual reality. No one can exactly explain what it really is, besides that this is an artificial space created by computers with the help of special technologies, such as sound, 3-dimentional pictures and videos. Do people exist in virtual reality? They do exist; otherwise, the topic of the topic of virtual communities would have never been discussed. People can enter and interfere with virtual reality while using computers. Indeed, by means of computers and the Internet such a term as “Virtual Communities” appeared. The concepts of virtual reality and virtual communities are similar. As virtual reality exists only virtually, virtual community consists only of people that use their computers as the means of communication, however, they never meet personally for a cup of tea, for example. People discuss various ideas, share common interests, and find friends and partners with the help of virtual communities, which were designed for all of the stated above purposes. Virtual communities exist, and there are a lot of them nowadays. So, probably, they have the right to exist in future. People like communicating on-line, thus, virtual communities also have some advantages in comparison with real communities. Both real communities and virtual ones serve the same purpose – communication, which creates lasting relationship between people.
The current study was designed to speak about real and virtual communities, to analyze the importance of both communities for the development of communicative skills in people and to compare the features, which are peculiar to either real community or to virtual community or maybe to both.
Real Communities versus Virtual Communities
Before comparing two types of communities, it is necessary to define the meaning of the term “community”. First of all community is a group of people, which is characterized by common place of living, religious, cultural, racial or ethnical similarities. Usually a group of people that shares common interests or ideas is also called a community, not necessarily inhabiting the same area. So, these are real communities. They can be found everywhere. Congregation of one church is a community, sharing common religious beliefs. Students of one university comprise a community, as they live at the same area, study at the same educational establishment and surely have common interests, such as sports or music. A group of countries can also be considered a community if they share common policies and interests, such as countries of the European Union, or countries supporting NATO. People of such communities live and interact with one another, developing certain communicative skills.
As we know a person is a social creature, thus, communication with other people is one of the essential elements influencing on the development of a person’s mind. In real communities people cannot avoid communication, due to the common place of living. Things are different with virtual community. The term “virtual community” appeared not so long ago in comparison with the term “community”, however, it confidently came into our vocabulary to describe a group of people, who share common cultural, religious or other beliefs or possess similar interests and likings. However, members of virtual communities never meet personally, but only communicate with the help of their computers and internet. Virtual communities are widely represented by various discussion groups, chat rooms or newsgroups. Participation in such communities is absolutely voluntary. If a person doesn’t want to communicate, he/she just doesn’t connect to the internet, which cannot be done in real communities. However, virtual communities also contribute to the establishment of strong bonds between people, and possess similar benefits to those of the real communities. Various websites offer free communication to people, who are interested in music, reading, sports, fashion, traveling; to people who are looking for new acquaintances or just have nothing to do at home. For some people it is even easier to be a member of a virtual community than of a real one, because virtual community doesn’t require personal communication, so people don’t see each other while communicating. That’s why people start to feel more self-confident while meeting new people, which is obviously helpful for future communication in real communities. These and other advantages and disadvantages of both real and virtual communities will be discussed further in the study.
Participation in any kind of community is very important for any member of society. First of all it makes people feel comfortable while communicative with each other. This develops necessary skills for further communication. Because members of communities possess similar interests and beliefs, it is easier for them to find common language than communicating with people from other communities. However, if a person feels comfortable in one community, it does not necessarily mean that he/she would be also comfortable in other community; however, chances of such people to become more communicative are somewhat higher than of people who don’t belong to any community. Another advantage of a community is that is helps to preserve customs and traditions of certain cultures. Inside a community people can practice any religion and follow and traditions and customs, which is not always possible outside the community. Living at the same area grants people an opportunity of constant communication and interaction with one another, this feature is obviously not peculiar to virtual communities. Inside the community people can freely express their points of view, share ideas and interests. Thus, members of a community can discuss the matters that are important only to them, rather than the rest of the world. Ideas expressed by the communities are more noticeable to the government and the rest of the society than ideas expressed by a single person. Thus, communities possess some sort of power, which they can use while convincing others of their ideas or needs. This power becomes evident during elections to the government, for example, when every candidate, trying to win as many votes as possible, promises certain improvements to the whole community rather than one person. It appears to be very effective, because in this case the whole community will vote for the candidate, making his chances to win the elections higher. So, the role of community is essential in the modern world. Community affects many spheres of people’s life. It influences our space and time structuring, reorganization of cities and towns, various economic activities in the country, because community is a part of work force. Being affected by globalization, communities also impact this process, shaping the pace of globalization in separate countries and world as a whole. Importance of communities cannot be underestimated, because community is a group of people, and a group is always more powerful than one individual is. However, the main role of community is that it promotes the development of relationship between people. People would never feel lonely belonging to any community.
Having spoken about the meaning of real and virtual communities, and their role and importance in the modern world, it is necessary to compare real communities with virtual ones with the help of qualities these two communities possess. The first and the most important characteristic feature of real community is people. People create a community, thus, without people community does not exists. People also serve as a key characteristic of virtual community, as virtual communities are also created by people. However, there are certain differences between people constituting real communities and people constituting virtual communities. Real communities consist of people who live on the same territory, who may be of the same race, culture and religion, while virtual communities can consist of people of different nationality, color of skin, culture or religion. People are united in virtual communities not by the common place of living, but they are united by common interests, ideas and beliefs. Communicating in virtual communities gives an opportunity for people of different race, culture and religion to share interests, to talk on the topics that are interesting to them, and to make new acquaintances. While people in real communities are almost always united by common place of living, people in virtual communities might live in different cities, countries or even at different continents. Another quality of community is common religion, culture, political or social views on life. Inhabiting the same territory, people in real community will surely practice the same culture and religion, most of them will be of the same race, possessing similar political and social views. Indeed, this is why a group of people is called a community. However, virtual community unites people who may have only one thing in common. For example, some people like rock music, while other people in the same city prefer pop music. Despite of the fact that all of them are of the same race, religion and culture, and have a common place of living, these people may belong to different virtual communities. The first part of them may belong to the virtual community of rock fans, while people of other part would be members of the virtual community of pop music listeners. Here obvious advantage of virtual community can be seen. For example, if two real communities, living in the same city, possess opposite views on politics, conflicts between them will inevitably appear, causing harm to people of both communities. However, conflicts are not likely to appear between virtual communities, where people actually never meet each other. The following feature of community is acceptance of new members. Sometimes real communities can be rather unfriendly and not welcome new members, due to certain reasons or just because a person is a newcomer. In contrast virtual communities welcome every new member, because the main goal of virtual communities is sharing interests regardless of belonging to any race, culture or religion. On the other hand, virtual communities that unite people of the same nationality, race, religion or culture also exist, and there are many of them. Virtual communities consisting of people of the same nationality exist in the countries inhabited by many immigrants. Immigrants organize virtual communities in order to follow their customs and traditions, in order to practice religion, in order to discuss events taking place in their home country, while inhabiting different countries worldwide. Despite of the fact that virtual communities will remain virtual for ever, and members of virtual communities will never meet personally, virtual communities possess qualities similar to real communities, because they are organized by a group of people, who share common interests and beliefs. Virtual communities can unite people of the same race, culture or nationality, however, virtual communities can also be composed of people of different nationalities, living in different countries and possessing different views, because virtual communities are organized on the basis of common interests and desire to communicate.
In spite of all benefits of communities, people who would like to become members of communities need to have certain skills in order to become successful. Participation in community requires open mind. Being a member of any community implies being an easy-going and open-minded person. It is necessary to be able to find common language with people you are going to communicate with. For this reason a person should possess qualities of not only a good speaker, but also of a good listener, which is sometimes even more difficult than being a good speaker. All members of community should be attentive to one another, understanding that all people are different in spite of possessing common interests or being of the same descent. In order to be successful in real community, it is necessary to be sociable, active, honest and respectful; however, it is also important to perfectly fit in the community, meaning that it would be more complicated for a person who is of different descent than other members of community to become a full member of it. As for virtual communities, it is also important to be sociable and active, possess certain personal views and be respectful towards other members of community.
Having spoken about real and virtual communities it is necessary to make a conclusion and find out weather virtual communities can become real. Indeed, the major difference between real and virtual communities lies in common place of living and communication face to face. Members of real communities see each other daily, they inhabit the same territory, and thus their communication is sort of inevitable. Things are different with virtual communities, members of which never meet, however may possess the same close relationship. From my point of view, virtual communities cannot become absolutely real, because people can understand nature of each other only when they see each other and communicate face to face. However, modern virtual communities have made certain advances at this point by using web cameras, microphones and other gadgets allowing them to develop closer relationship.

1. Biocca, Frank. (1995). Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
2. Rheingold, Howard. (1999). Virtual Community: Another Metaphor. Whole Earth.
3. Putman, Robert. Resnick, Paul. (2000). Closing the Divide: Turning virtual communities into real ones. June 25.

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