July 16, 2014

Networks are not communities. We live in a global network, not a global community

An important article from The Art of Manliness: Communities Vs. Networks: To Which Do You Belong?

In making his newest documentary, Korengal, author and filmmaker Sebastian Junger wanted to explore the answer to the question of why — despite its dangers and deprivations — men actually miss war when their tour of duty is over. A large part of the answer is the intense camaraderie created in combat — a brotherhood that they lack when they return home. In a recent interview, Junger posits that this absence of camaraderie is often at the root of why soldiers sometimes struggle so acutely to adjust to life after deployment. They come home, Junger says, and realize for the first time what an “alienated society” they truly live in. What they need, he argues, is a country that “operates in more of a community way.” He then adds: “But frankly, that’s what we need.”

Unfortunately, true community in our modern world is hard to find for soldiers and civilians alike. Instead, we increasingly live out our lives as members of networks. This transition from community to network life is truly at the heart of the increasing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and anomie that many people experience in the modern age. We’ve never been so “connected” — and yet so isolated at the same time.

Networks Are Large and Anonymous; Communities Are Small and Intimate
Because networks are so large, anonymity reigns. Members do not meet face-to-face, do not know if the people they interact with digitally are even who they say they are, and may have no idea who also belongs to the network. Because of the lack of physical intimacy, a culture of honor and shame cannot function, necessitating the erection of numerous rules and regulations to check and control members’ behavior.

In contrast, communities have inherent limits on size. Unlike networks, if communities don’t stop growing, they’ll die. According to Dunbar’s Number, most humans can’t maintain more than around 150 meaningful relationships. Anthropologists have found that hunter-gatherer societies hover around 150 members before they split. In Western military history, the size of a military company — the smallest autonomous and fully functioning unit — has been around 150 members.

Networks Are Artificial, Top-Down; Communities Are Organic, Bottom-Up
Networks are typically artificial; they rarely form organically. And they’re invariably created, and then governed, in a top-down fashion. Policies and regulations are decreed from on high with little or no input from the majority of the people who make up the network. Because those at the top are so removed physically and psychologically from those at the bottom, the solutions ultimately proffered are often out of touch and highly ineffective.

Communities, on the other hand, are organic and autonomous. They’re made up of a collection of real families that are bound together by geography and shared values. When facing a problem, individuals within a community band together to come up with a solution that will work for them. Because the people trying to address problems within the community — including its leaders — are familiar with the group’s unique needs, the solutions that are generated are typically more effective.

Networks Encourage Passivity and Consumption; Communities Require Action and Contribution
Because there are so many people in a network, members assume someone else will take care of problems that arise. But because that’s what everyone else is thinking, nothing gets done. People will step around someone in distress on the street in a big city, or pass the collection plate at a giant church, figuring other people will help. The anonymity of the crowd allows the passive bystander to escape shame.

Networks not only breed passivity, but encourage consumption. They’re all about what you can get, rather than what you must give.

Networks Can Be Location Independent; Communities Are Attached to a Place….

Networks Divide a Person Into Parts; Communities Nurture the Whole Person……

Is This Group I’m Part of a Network or a Community?
….In our modern age, intimate, face-to-face communities are hard to come by; while exceptions exist, networks have almost completely taken over how Americans socially organize themselves. So in evaluating the groups you belong to, it’s perhaps better to ask if they are more like a network, or more like a community. The following questions can help you think through where your group falls on the spectrum:

Do the rules, regulations, and culture of my group come from top leaders that I have never met personally, or do they originate from the group itself?
Do I know the names of every person in my group and interact with them face-to-face?
Does my group have a physical meeting place?
If I left the group, would anyone know I was gone? Would there be any repercussions for doing so?
If I got sick, or needed a favor, how many members of my group could I count on for visits and assistance?
Am I required to contribute to the communal pot, or can I utilize the benefits of the group without making any contributions beyond dues/fees/taxes?

Beware of Networks Wearing Community’s Clothing
But networks can never be a fully satisfying replacement for communities. They’re not designed for social intimacy and fulfillment — they’re designed for efficiency and growth.

the idea of a “global community” has been much ballyhooed in our time (see The World Is Flat), but running it through the above requirements quickly reveals the idea to be an utter farce. If your only obligation to helping other members involves texting a $10 donation to aid tsunami victims every now and again, what you’re part of is a network, not a community.

Another perfect example of networks masquerading as communities is when giant corporations claim that they consider their employees and customers to be “family.” Except in the corporate version of “family,” members are charged for basic services and can be fired if another “brother” or “sister” will work more cheaply from India.

The façade of community quickly disappears when emergency strikes in your life and you really need somebody. Is the Apple community going to rally behind you and help you out? Of course not

Learning How to Live in a Community Again
Posted by Jill Fallon at July 16, 2014 12:22 AM | Permalink