Community is about relationship, and in general we think of communities as groups of people – human, non-human – living closely together. Nowadays of course (well, for humans) that doesn’t always mean living within a readily definable geographic space. Many of our communities are disparate and physically unidentified, with the relationship existing mainly or solely within the online realm.
People living in physical communities may notice when someone is ill, or absent, or troubled. There may be cards in the windows, balloons and banners on the door, or the unsettling yellow green of a paramedic response vehicle on the drive. We wave and bid good day to those we see as we walk about the place. We see people.
That’s not at all as easy in cyberspace. Often, long periods can go by without direct interaction with individuals, and only when someone else remarks on an absence will we all go “oh yeah, I guess I’d not seen them about for a while”. And then the ambiguity of the absence… have they gone away on holiday, have they died, did they simply find somewhere else in which to invest their time? Will they return?
These thoughts come as one of the online communities I spend time in comes to terms with the discovery that one of its members won’t be coming back. And then there is a period of reflection, on the loss of that individual, and on how they influenced us and how we feel on their passing. I didn’t know the person beyond our online interactions, but share the same momentary pause as I assimilate the news.
Other times, members of the online community may leave and we never do find out what happened in their lives to initiate that disconnection. They hang there, in a kind of limbo; Schrodinger’s avatars, in a state of uncertain relationship. As likely to pop back into activity as they are to sit in quiescent ones and zeros for eternity – or at least until the server is reset. Some real-world friendships are like that too, I guess.
Meh, rainy Saturday morning waffle. But perhaps too a reminder that relationships stagnate if not occasionally fettled, and we never know when the last conversation took place. And then it’s too late to do more than pause, momentarily.