Disembodied Fellowship & Real-Time Ribs
by davey winder
No matter where on the planet your virtual community is based, no matter which service hosts it, and no matter who the participants are, it won't be long before someone suggests The Meet.
My virtual home is CIX, the Compulink Information Exchange here in the UK. It's where I first discovered that such a thing as community within the realm of the computer network could truly exist. You can read the full story in Howard's book The Virtual Community, and you don't need to leave Electric Minds to do it, so I won't belabor the details here. The thing is, I'd only been on CIX for a short (if noisy) time when people began asking if I'd like to meet up for a drink. In every conference I joined, be it "bikers" or "cix_karaoke," the same question was asked. Fancy a meet?
At first I thought this odd. After all, weren't these supposed to be virtual meeting places? Why the need for a physical manifestation of the conference community? Online, we build our relationships on soul, thought, and deed; our friendships and feuds grow quickly and strongly. Yet we still need to impose a physical body upon that relationship -- perhaps just to quantify it, if nothing else.
The Davey Dossier
I joined CIX in 1989, having just come out of hospital following a major illness that had left me confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed in three limbs, and with the social opportunities of a gnat. I'd already discovered the online world, thanks to a donated modem and an account with MicroNet, an online discussion service hosted by the BT Prestel system. (MicroNet was a videotext-based service; the messages scrolled away into the virtual ether after 24 hours or so -- you had to be quick to catch a conversation there!) Anyway, someone recommended CIX and I joined up. The first day I logged on I was hooked; indeed I made a grand entrance. My first message was a response to a view with which I disagreed. I concluded my comments with: "and anyway, what makes you such an expert?" The subject of my scorn was computer editor of a leading newspaper!
Soon I was spending hours each day online. My social standing was now better than ever, my mobility totally unhindered. I had indeed been born again online. I've made many friends on CIX; most of them are still with me, some have passed on in the online world, others have passed on in the real world. Although my health returned some years ago, and the wheelchair is long forgotten, my CIX life is still important to me. Without it I would never have started writing about the Internet world, and I would not be the person I am today.
The Nonwired BBQ
Like I mentioned, the individual CIX conferences often arrange meets for their members. But there's also the CIX BBQ. It's an annual event put on by the system's owners, Frank and Sylvia Thornley. Actually, Frank and Sylvia are more like caring parents than owners, watching over the development of their ever-growing family.
But I digress. The midsummer BBQ is open to all members of CIX and their families. It creates an opportunity for the entire CIX community to meet up and make merry. It also provides a superb online battleground for months before and after. "You hate us people from the North, that's why you hold the BBQ down south." "Why did you pick that day? It was just so I couldn't come, wasn't it?" "Change the venue! The landlord was Satan incarnate last year."
But seriously. In what other community but a virtual one would you get leather-clad bikers quaffing ale and enjoying the company of bank managers and accountants? Where else would sexual fetishists mingle with vicars and politicians (er, don't answer that one)? Children on bouncy castles, nonwired (and slightly nonplussed) family members enjoying a picnic, hundreds of people with perfectly adequate social skills having a damn good time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Hardly the sad picture conjured up by the media talk of "geeks," is it?
In the early eighties, Frank and Sylvia Thornley returned from a trip to the US with a newfangled modem and a not inconsiderable quantity of shareware. They established a small BBS in the back room of their house and called it Compulink. Its heart was a twin-floppy-disk PC; users provided its soul. They soon flocked to download the shareware, which was rotated on a weekly basis and made available to anyone who came along.
It wasn't long before the users asked Frank if they could get the shareware sent to them directly on disk, saving them long downloads and expensive online time. The Compulink User Group was formed, and it wasn't long before the Thornleys realized that shareware distribution had become a full-time job. So they made it official, gave up their day jobs, and used the profits from CUG to fund the FidoNet-based Compulink BBS. Frank and Sylvia, energetic dreamers, next decided that a proper multi-user conferencing system was required. They invested all they had to turn this dream into a reality (the first of its kind in the UK), and CIX was born in 1985. The operating system came from the University of Guelph-developed CoSy system; it is still used today, having undergone massive internal development at the hands of the CIX programming staff. Now with 16,000 members, a staff of dozens, and a firmly established reputation as Europe's leading private conferencing system, CIX is here to stay. The Thornleys still own it, but the day-to-day running is now undertaken by Managing Director Roland Perry.
Electric Minds is well along toward developing into a community. The personalities in the London conference are starting to bloom, as are others around the many areas that make up our cybernation. Already there have been calls for The Meet in the London conf, and some of our participants' paths have already crossed IRL.
But Electric Minds is different to most virtual communities. Its global nature makes physical meetings much more difficult. Any meets are going to be fragmentary analogs of the full experience. This doesn't mean that a real-life bond won't develop, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the virtual bond will become even stronger. Could it be that we are paving the way toward the first truly global, truly virtual, true community? I hope so. I think so.
What I find interesting is that most of the "environments" for VCs ( for example, chat rooms like the Palace) all have identifiable artifacts derived from real world, such as rooms, doors, places. The funny thing is that they are merely backdrops to help citizens navigate through the web of passages, and they do not provide any experience of the "place" like physical places do. Let's say we want a monumental public plaza that celebrates the pride of civility. How the heck can do we that?
Most Active Topics:
Topic 3 Introduce Yourself!
Topic 39 Musicians Unite!
I joined CIX because in an age where trust and common courtesy are very thin on the ground, it was nice to find that these qualities live on electronically.
I joined to get even with my husband, who was sitting captivated in front of CIX night after night, totally ignoring me! I've made friends with people I've never met, I've ROFL'ed over jokes, I've cried over illness, death and misfortune. CIX and CIXen have restored my flagging faith in human nature.
I'm gay and have lived with my partner in a rural area for many years. In truth, I had become a bit of a pipe-and-slippers man. Since joining I have made many good friends among CIXen, and have relit my social life. I run a small organization which opposes the Christian ex-gay movement and find that getting the victims to join CIX has an excellent therapeutic effect. It provides a degree of mutual support unavailable elsewhere.
What I've found is a whole new social spectrum. With CIX I have access to an incalculable resource, not only of information but of people. It exists in the void between the real world and the web.
It has values that I'd love to see more widespread in Real Life -- a belief in the accountability of an individual for their actions, a willingness to be altruistic and a desire to be open minded. Being a member of the CIX community is akin to having a spare brain to explore ideas in. Overall, it thinks!
Who's that girl? The lady in black is Mrs. Wavey (the lovely Yvonne); the lady in white is CIX co-owner Sylvia Thornley. Two of the most important women in my life!
Other Profiled Communities:
New York Online
electric minds |
virtual community center |
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Any questions? We have answers.