Communities are the places we live, work, and move, both online and off. We all have a part in some communities. In others we simply exist. And still others we simply observe from the outside.
We hear about community standards and rules (both on the books and unspoken), the state of the community, its future, its flaws, its grandeur … It’s easy to think of a community as an independent thing, a simple organizational form, a sterile micro institution, or even a large clique. In this context, it becomes easy to detach from a community, to criticize, to look from the outside and question its worth and the motivations of the creatures within. We observe it from afar, as if an alien civilization, and judge it bases on our experience. Even if it is a community of which we have participated, we can become disconnected, feel removed; even if we remain physically (or digitally, as the case may be), we are no longer a part of it but apart from it.
Sometimes that’s OK. Sometimes it is even necessary, an element of growing up or moving on.
Yet in doing so, we can lose sight of what community is. Even if we are part of a community, we can forget the meaning – not the definition, but the meaning - of that word.
In recent months, I have not been as active and engaged in this particular community, the science blogosphere, as I once was, especially in this particular forum. But lately I have been reminded of how important this community is to me. As a direct result of blogging, I have had the fortune to connect with scientists and science enthusiasts all over the world. I have benefited professionally from these interactions, in the form of technical expertise and unfiltered advice on grants and situations in the workplace. And I am very grateful for this.
Of greater importance, though, I have been affected personally by the connections I have made online, many initiated here or on Twitter that have carried over to email and even face-to-face conversations. Sometimes you simply entertain, lighten the mood, bring a smile or a chuckle at just the right time(really, is there any time when we couldn’t use an extra spark of humor or goodness?). Other times you provide reality checks or outside perspectives that help me see alternatives I might have missed. At times, you just listen and offer what are often the perfect words of support and encouragement. You let me know, from a few to thousands of miles away, that I am not alone.
Many people don’t “get” blogging or tweeting or many of the other ways we connect with complete strangers around the globe. They perceive these actions simply as ways for placing ourselves at the center of attention, and no doubt some people do just care about that. But I know there’s more to it because I have experienced it.
My life has been greatly enriched by being a part this community. Thank you for the privilege of knowing what community really means.