Galston, William A. "Does the Internet Strengthen Community?" National Civic Review, Fall 2000 v89 i3 p193.

Keywords: freedom, norms, community

Abstract:

Galston examines what is happening to American society as individual freedom and choices are increasing. According to the author, old social norms such as; marriage, family, community, country, have become restrictive norms. With today’s freedoms the author suggests that perhaps Americans are feeling a sense of loss that is manifesting itself as a longing for community. The challenge then is to devise ways of living autonomously while maintaining social bonds. Galston calls this concept “voluntary community”. Some see the Internet as a way to facilitate the formation of voluntary communities. While others doubt that the Internet can provide an adequate substitute for face-to-face community interactions.

The author points out that obviously the Internet facilitates the growth of groups with common interests but questions whether these groups constitute community? He reminds us too that community is more than a group of people that have an interest in a narrowly defined topic. Typically a community is thought to include a “we-ness”, a sense of belonging, social patterns, and mutual familiarity as well as shared experiences in community. These concepts generally exist in a place-based or face-to-face environment. If these concepts are built into the definition of community then the author believes that the relationship between community and the Internet becomes questionable. Only certain aspects of community, according to Galston, can be considered if you want to claim on-line groups are communities. The author suggests investigating only the features of; limited membership, shared norms, affective ties and the sense of mutual obligation, as empirical questions when assessing the Internets relationship to community.

The author concludes by saying that if we link ourselves to others strictly by choice - through the Internet - we lose the real essence of community. Learning to make the best of sometimes-unpleasant interactions is part of what makes a good citizen and a mature human. Online groups do supplement certain social experiences but does not form a complete experience.