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can the Internet create genuine community?



personal • 24.05.09  

Curiously, in my professional life over thirty years I have met very few others who do what I do. In most jobs that is probably unusual. Lawyers, journalists, teachers, doctors, policemen, soldiers, tradesmen and more all work in shared spaces. Their sense of identity is reinforced by the fact of proximity to other people who do what they do.

Unfortunately the opposite is the case for me. Despite closeness to thousands of artists and musicians over time I have known a mere handful of producer types and even the ones I did know they were so different in their ways that I had little in common with them. Years pass and I never come across another who makes music anything like the way I do.

You might think with the explosion of connection possibilities brought about by the Internet that I would have been able to find a community of fellow travellers but that hasn’t been the case. Although it may be down in part to my own inadequacies I think the matter is more complex.

I say this in the context of reading Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody” which is a good exposition of the Internet’s capacity for creating communities. I’ve been sceptical about such things in the past tending to see online social networks as pretentious. I saw virtual communities as essentially fake, places where people make connections without actually having to.

Shirky has me thinking again and rightly points out that the escalation of online activity is like nothing else in history and is as momentous a cultural event as the inventing of the printing press. Its possibilities are unfolding by the day. I am reminded that my pessimism is circumstantial (working in a backwater) and psychological (can be changed).

I currently read Shirky at a time when, having given it much thought, I am about to try and build an online presence via website and blog. The blog might initially contain items from my archive of recorded works going back thirty-five years but eventually would be for contemporary work too. I hadn’t been sure about who might be interested in such material and thought a few random parties at best. Maybe if I get lucky someone useful might stumble across it. Wondering who might such random people be I realised it could be people like me. Although I never meet them there must be thousands of others who have catalogues of music recordings that fall below the radar as mine do. They are the ones who might be interested in comparing notes with someone of similar conviction and experience.

Consistent with Shirky’s thinking, if I was able to find a community of like-minds it would be a first. It would be the first time I had ever been able to identify others who do what I do. Even one other would be a revelation. Such relationships may be virtual in that they do not entail the sharing of physical space but these communications are connections nevertheless and therefore potentially of worth. I go forward once again with a little positivity to hand.

Four Years Later

The endeavour was enormous. I put a huge amount of work in. I built a website and not being a tech it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I put together various blogs as planned and embraced Twitter. I attached a music label to the site and made the material available at online retail. To that end I engaged a whole bunch of musicians old and new who were around the studio at the time and created twenty-odd EPs made up mostly of material I had composed. I wrote blog entries, took part in forums and generally tried to build that online presence. All to no avail. It achieved nothing.

Yes, I like having the work presented and prefer it being "out there” to it lying in a box. I also got some forward motion from the very fact of trying so damned hard. But in terms of the original plan, of trying to make new connections, of trying to cut a swathe, the initiative drew solid blanks. Like everything else I’ve tried these past two decades, yet another time I remain the perennial loser. Clay Shirky’s idealism was inspirational for sure but ineffectual no less.