Thursday, July 15, 2010


Some of My Community, 2010

There’s a lot of talk about the community of the online world. I’ve always thought I understood what that meant—a collection of individuals united by some common value, geography, interest, experience, responsibility, etc—and appreciated it as such. To my way of thinking, community means you don’t feel alone. It’s where you are accepted for who you are because that which most defines you is probably what defines the community.

Recently I listened to an interview of Shane Claiborne by Krista Tippet, host of the radio program and podcast Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippet. You might think this a strange program to listen to for someone as agnostic as me. But Tippit is an interesting person and her guests sometimes bring interesting perspectives.

Such was the case with Tippit’s interview with Shane Claiborne, a profoundly decent sounding young man of very conservative Christian leaning who aspires to demonstrate that there is an alternative to the extreme Christian hectoring that taints so much religious discourse. At one point in the interview Claiborne said something so interesting that I had to pull over to the side of the road and write it down:

“Community is being around people like you want to become.”

At first, this sounded intriguing to me, the idea that community is an aspirational place. But after a few minutes of thinking about it, I realized that Claiborne’s concept of community collides head-on with the way I’ve always thought of community as a physical or conceptual place where you can be relaxed in the company of your fellow community members. Sure, any community comes with responsibilities. But I never thought of community, or at least the kind of self-selecting virtual kind you find online, as a place where you’re consumed with keeping up with the Joneses.

My Flickr “community” includes 360 people I’ve designated as “contacts.” They’re very different kinds of people, located all across the United States and around the world. On an average day at least half of them post one or more new photographs. Each of these pictures is its own story. But each photo adds to what I know about the person who took it. You look at a person’s pictures every day for a few months—some of us have been at it for seven or eight years—and you can have a pretty good idea what that person is about.

My travels have made it possible for me to meet a number of Flickr friends in person. Each time I’ve met someone from this community for the first time in “real space” we pick up just as old friends would. Instead of awkwardness, there is immediate conversation and acceptance. There’s no competition. Sure, some people are doing work from which you can learn a lot. I’m grateful for that inspiration. But I don’t get the impression that any one of us is trying to become like the others. By this stage of our lives we know pretty much who we are or what we want to become. It doesn’t take a community to tell me that.


  1. Well said. Fascinating topic, in the age of social networking and the concept of "knowing" people pretty well whom we may never even meet. I often find myself concerned or worried about people whose situations I know about, even though I honestly have never met them! It's a very interesting phenomenon, but I'm quite fond of many of the people I've "met" this way. In fact, you are one of those people in my "community."

  2. Claiborne's quote reminded me of a line from The Big Chill: "I was always at my best when I was with you people."

  3. Well put "old friend"! If someone 10 years ago had described what my Flickr experience would be I would have thought them crazy.

  4. The online community negates my physical disabilities and allows me to experience and explore parts of the world that I would never see otherwise. I actually think of many of my online community members as family even though we've never met face to face.