Communities


There’s a word that you encounter a lot on the internet and it always really bugs me. That word is “community”. I’ve got nothing against it — it’s a fine word, I’m just sick of how misused it is.

The Gaming Community. The Tech Community. The Brony Community. They all connote cosy images of people coming together, Sharing Experiences, loving and supporting each other. Sparkly unicorns prance in the clouds as they all dance hand-in-hand into their big brick meeting hall to give each other matching henna tattoos. Every year they pay their dues and receive their annual report.

It’s nonsense! But this nonsense is foisted upon us because of laziness, and sometimes because of dishonesty. In the first case it’s often used as a sort of shorthand for the homogeneity of a particular group, or to identify a small subsection of a group as the whole without troubling to really explain what you’re doing. Take the recent Gamergate kerfuffle (how many more gates can we have before the Universe decides it’s had enough and collapses?) Did you hear as much as I did about “gamers” or “the gaming community”? The former is a crude neologism that refers to such a giant swathe of the human race that it really doesn’t mean anything at all. A Bangladeshi pinball wizard is a “gamer” just as much as an adenoidal American man-child who closets himself for hours with an Xbox (this is the more common assumption.) Accepting this, it’s patently obvious that there is no such thing as the latter term unless you bend and prod it viciously beyond all meaning.

“You’re not a community, you’re a sales spreadsheet.”

The same complaint applies to things like the Tech Community, which is an idea that makes about as much sense as the Hotdog Community or the Silly Putty Community. If the one thing that defines your grouping is that you bought something from a particular company, you’re not a community, you’re a sales spreadsheet.

“But wait! These are communities, because communities are built on shared interests!”

It’s true that one of the foundations of a community is often shared interests, although these might be as basic as “living in this particular village”. But whilst any particular internet “community” might fulfill a lot of criteria it’s missing a crucial element. There’s no committment, no accountability. It is precisely the anonymity of the Gamergate trolls that puts the lie to the idea that they are part of a community. Dipping into a social circle on the internet is as easy as clicking a couple of buttons, and removing yourself is just as simple. It’s moronic to call these things communities.

I’m beyond tired of hearing it. It’s a weird sham and it’s an easy option for anyone who wants to twist things to support their point. Lumping people together in some negative amorphous mass is the first step towards demonizing them unfairly or making them feel guilty for something.

So, speaking on behalf of the “words should mean something, stop mistreating them” community — can we leave it out?

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