Exchange One.
In Which Nick Has Written to Josh,
and Josh Responds

[ Go back to The On-Line Community Does Not Compute ] [ Go to Exchange Two. ]

> Josh,
In your node on community, you write:

I have spent the past semester studying the WELL, the on-line "intentional community" celebrated by Howard Rheingold in The Virtual Community, to see exactly what kind of community exists on-line. Rheingold is the WELL's greatest proponent; he portrays the WELL as a true and solid community, and although I myself am sceptical of the extent to which this community is able to serve its "members" as well as other, non-mediated kinds of community, he is pretty convincing.

> I just noticed the above as if for the first time
> and it strikes me as interesting. First, I take it that by non-mediated
> you mean specifically non-computer mediated. Ain't nothing in this whole
> wide world, we've learned from Sausseure, Derrida and Barthes, to name a
> few of the biggies by way of padding the old works cited, that isn't
> mediated in some way, by some technology, no matter how old.

> See I've digressed. My query is not about that qualification but about
> how your skepticism and Rheingold's arguments play out. You hint at a
> real intellectual drama in this passage: "although I myself am skeptical
> of the extent to which this community is able to serve its "members" as well
> as other, non-mediated kinds of community, he is pretty convincing."

> Do you mean Rheingold is convincing in a "willing suspension of
> disbelief" kind of way? That is, if you suspend your skepticism and
> inhabit fully his argument, it makes a certain kind of sense?

> Or is that, Rheingold doesn't argue that The Well is as well as say face
> to face, but that it offers another way of being in a community, and it's
> not to be taken as a replacement for geo-physical communities, but as a
> way to belong to another kind of community at the same time one belongs
> to all the usual ones--neighborhoods, offices, college campuses (in our
> case), the home, or what have you.

> I am curious, I suppose, at how you see the demands of your skepticism
> being met and to what degree.

> Nick Carbone, Writing Instructor
> Marlboro College
> Marlboro, VT 05344
>, but coming to you via


It's a perfectly safe assumption to interpret "non-mediated" as
person-to-person information transferance. I actually toyed with the
idea of using "least mediated" intead of non-mediated in several parts of
the review, but I think that most people think of mediated in a
conventional sense as anything conveyed by other than our internal
assumptions and spoken words.

There is such a thing as a document which is so hypertextual that it is
hard to glean from it information other than "text bytes." My concern is
that bringing up the idea of "least mediated (which is, after all, more
accurate) is to potentially pull the reader from the idea at hand. The
avoidance of the issue thus becomes a way of encouraging the reader to
"stay with" the linear set-up of the reveiw section in question, and thereby
discouraging the reader from "wandering" beyond the subject at hand. Very
linear of me, I know, but as I suggest in my Meta-text section, our
thinking is still so conditioned towards linearity that hypertext to a
certain magnitude becomes too complex to follow without a map. And too
many maps would just be a sacrifice of meaning (a la Talbott) for
structure, form over function.

As for Rheingold...I think that both of your interpretations are accurate
descriptions of my reaction to Rheingold. The WELL seems to me (as
Rheingold celebrates it) a complete "community," but only in the context
of Rheingold's book itself.

In other words, when I first read Rheingold, his ideas made perfect sense
in the manner you first suggested - within the context of the book he
wrote. Recently, a number of critiques of Rheingold have begun appearing
(like Stephen Doheny-Farina's) which make it possible to go back to
Rheingold and read it in the context of those outside critiques. When
this is done, your second explanation of what I might have meant holds
true - Rheingold then seems to be describing a kind of community which is
different but plausible - the virtual no longer seems equivalent, but
supplementary to, the real community.


joshua farbe
Marlboro College
Marlboro, VT 05344

any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic
(clarke's 3rd law of technology)

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Exchange Two: In Which Josh Has Written to Nick, and Nick Responds Return to the Front Page of "A Thoughtful Contrarian"
Review of Talbott's The Future Does Not Compute
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