For years I have had a circle of virtual friends. We “met” at worldmagblog, later renamed World Community. We gathered daily, or as often as time or interest allowed, to discuss news, issues, events in our personal lives, faith, and anything else that we chose to talk about.
Some of us got in touch with each other directly through email. We sent cards (real ones, mailed from one person to the next for a genuine non-virtual signature) to someone getting married. Some of us have even met in person, when travel plans included a stop near where someone else from the blog lived. Gifts have been given. Many prayers have been sent up for each other.
It was a constantly shifting community, with new people joining and others drifting away. But it was tight enough that when one regular didn’t show up for quite a while, someone else became concerned enough to find out where she lived to make sure she was OK. It didn’t take the place of our in-person relationships, but when there were joys or griefs in our lives, it was one place we went to share our happiness and receive the comfort of knowing others cared.
I put all this in the past tense, because this past week, World Magazine informed our community that they were no longer going to host our daily gatherings. Their new site has a policy of comments by subscribers only, and no open threads (i.e. commenting is expected to be relevant to a particular news story). They suggested social media such as Facebook for the purposes we had used their open threads for.
Some of us had already met up on Facebook. But it’s not the same. At all. I don’t know about your friends on Facebook, but mine don’t talk much. They post lots of pictures. There are pictures of places they’ve been, pictures of people and events in the news, and pictures with pithy or humorous sayings. “Discussion” of these consists largely in clicking the “Like” button, and occasionally adding a brief comment such as “How true!” or “Isn’t it awful?”
I see references to bad things that have gone on in people’s lives, but rarely any details. Sometimes, I’m sure, it’s because close friends and family already know the details. But I’m not close enough to have heard, even though these are “real” friends and not just virtual friends. And I generally won’t ask if they haven’t volunteered details, because lots of people don’t want to share all those details.
After all, “friends” on Facebook include family (tied by blood and circumstance but not always emotionally close), co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances from church, school, and other community groups, and the friends of friends whom you know but just barely. My recent job loss, and subsequent getting a new job, were the kind of things I could share with that wide a circle. A lot of other things aren’t.
Some people complain about the frequent political posts on Facebook. I haven’t noticed – I don’t know if most of them prefer other venues to argue politics, or if I just skip those posts without noticing – along with most of the pictures and links that aren’t directly connected to people I know. It’s not that I don’t take an interest in current issues. But Facebook is not conducive to discussing them.
In contrast, the discussions I’ve followed on blogs – the one at World Magazine as well as others, are full of thoughtful comments that genuinely inform, even if they do not often persuade. Same thing with the just as touchy subject of faith. People mention it on Facebook, but talk in-depth about it on blogs.
Often, people put links on Facebook to their own blogs, or to articles elsewhere, to read about something in more depth. But then whatever discussion takes place is over in that other site, among a different group of people. The “discussion” of the link on Facebook is minimal or non-existent.
I don’t know if Facebook attracts a different kind of community, where people would rather look at pictures than discuss ideas, or if it’s just too broad a community. The “community” we had at World Magazine’s blog was diverse, but the format lent itself well to a lot of discussions – often very heated ones. I felt free to say things to my virtual friends that I would not feel comfortable mentioning to an acquaintance at work or the parent of one of my son’s classmates.
It was a community that was important to a lot of us, one we didn’t want to lose. So when World Magazine announced their changed policy, we felt anger and grief. And a strong desire to keep the community going. So one of our members did something about it, and Wandering Views was born. So far it’s pretty much the regulars from the WorldMag blog, but it’s open to anyone.
So if you want some good discussions and good community, come on over!