Virtual Communities versus Real Communities

The structure, operation and composition of the Virtual Communities defer, in a certain way, from Real (Physical) Communities, at the interaction level. Smith (1995) pointed out five interactions characteristic of the virtual communities that do not exist in the communication of the physical world:
· Aspacial - virtual interaction is not circumscribed to the territorial and geographical limits of the individual interactions;
· Assyncronous - with the exception of the chatrooms, in the virtual domain the communication normally is not in real time;
· Acorporeas - in a virtual environment, the communication has a tendency to be on basis of the text. Only what is written is “exchanged”; there is an absence of non-verbal clues like the gestures, the way we dress up, the posture, the physical language, the facial expressions (that normally go along the speech in the physical world). Virtual communities developed their own ways to express emotions and physical gestures, through the keyboard. In the physical communities, on the other hand, excepting telephone conversations, we need an interaction as face-to-face as when the interlocutors are co-present.
· Astigmatic - as the virtual communities are normally based in text and acorporeal, there is no place for the stigma.
· Anonymous - due to four previous characteristics, the virtual communities are more anonymous than real.

Nevertheless, in the real communities the quality of member, is not always intentional. Sometimes, the individuals make part of a community, simply because they live in that district, or work in that enterprise. However, the quality of member in a virtual community is normally intentional, because they choose the community they want to take part. The intentional aspect of the virtual communities puts its structure very fragile, as people can leave without great effort. On the other hand, there are other aspects in which virtual communities can be similar to physical communities. Both are characterized for the communication and relations built between the individuals. The members join forces; there is a sense of belonging and of social support. Basically, people fulfill the same activities both in the real world and in the virtual world - they talk, argue, protest, fight, are reconciled, do friends, there are amused (Rheingold, 1993).
The transformations lead to the differences in the operation, structure and composition of the VC, but these communities on-line are very similar in spirit to the physical communities. A virtual community is linked very deeply to a “third space” in the real life - by a social meeting in a bar or a coffee.
According to Smith (1995), the VC, in spite of his differences with the communities in the real life, are communities and its “virtuality” lays in the nature of the media. He even compares the VC with the correspondence of the 19th centuary. Nevertheless, the speed interaction is much more fast and, perhaps, therefore more dynamic.
Postman (1994:12) refers to the undeniable fact that all the technologies and whichever the technological innovation is, they have not a univocal effect, being any technology, a bundle or a blessing. Postman (1994:19) analyzing the impact of the technologies in our society, culture and nature, writes: “... the new technologies change what we know as "a knowledge" and "truth"; they alter those habits of thought that give a culture the meaning of what the world is - the natural order of the things, its inevitability, of what it real.
For some researchers, technologies, more specifically the Internet and the virtual communities, are misrepresenting the people and the culture that "produced" them. To this narrow vision of culture and of a "type" of passive person, not reflexive, in my opinion seems to be an obvious proof of the tecnophobic vision of the new technological reality that is appearing, instead of helping us to apprehend them, mystify, demonize and dramatize the new social and cultural reality made possible by the new technologies.
The common image between the tecnophobics on the Internet, as a technology of communication, is that she is invasive. However, as Kerckhove writes (1997:91): “The Net is still not invasive, at least, it’s less of the telephone, because it does not call the persons, is the persons who call it”. In my opinion nothing exists in the cyberspace that has not been "put there", it is the human element that builds the cyberspace and is the interaction between persons that builds the cyberculture. The new technologies, seen as a mean, where the use of the mean and its content, depends on the persons and not on the technology per se, disables the argument that these new technologies are "devilish" and that they will destroy our social and cultural net. On the contrary, it is exactly this social and cultural net that builds them, shaping and enabling it. What this statement means, is that whenever a new technology appears, deposing his predecessor, this new technology shuts in you and in his use, necessarily, a piece of new and innovating “cosmovision”. The technologies change our lives, our culture, and our forms of thinking; however, they do not put an end to anything of that, they only propose us a new and different social and cultural “cosmovision”.



Comparison between Real and Virtual Communities