What is community? Merriam-Webster (n.d.) defines community as “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.” Our digital world has introduced millions of people that share at least one thing in common, thereby creating a sense of community. Whether that is food, fashion, automobiles, sex, or sports, the internet is a place that anyone can find community. In our digital world there is something for everyone, which is its beauty. But what does it mean to have a meaningful connection with another human being?
It is evident that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the digital world greatly expanded in significance, thereby fostering greater human connection. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and similar communication platforms are the new norm for workplace meetings and dating apps are the new norm for meeting potential life partners. During the pandemic, education was mostly digital. Students in grade school and college learned to interact with classmates and teachers through a computer screen. One can argue that connections between people were enhanced during the pandemic. But one can question if these digital connections are as meaningful as human-to-human connections.
I chose to work for a non-profit organization because I thoroughly enjoy helping people in need and working alongside co-workers that feel the same (community). Typical of other organizations–for-profit and non-profit organizations alike–we were forced to go digital. I must say that working digitally is not quite the same as in-person. I have spent hours with the same people in virtual meetings and if I pass by them in person, it is as if we never met. The connection is not there. I feel the need to introduce myself again when we meet in person. An article written by Krista Susman recommends that we “… connect to a concept of encounter as a conditio humanae (human condition) which refers to an existential way of creating meaning” (Schmid, 1995, as cited in Susman, 2021, p. 332). Which is to say that I believe, as humans, in order to build anything meaningful we must encounter our community. We must exchange physical essence (e.g., eye contact, smell, handshake, hug, smiles, and laughs) to have a true meaningful connection. Unfortunately, digital connections can’t provide that.
BUT…. The digital world does provide a great opportunity to explore the world for communities that a person can potentially encounter. There are thousands of examples of meaningful connections that have been made through the digital world. Jump on TikTok, Facebook, or Instagram to find how people have made beautiful connections. We have all witnessed the power of what communities can do in the digital world. I believe that we can–and must–use the digital world as a place to encounter a new community of individuals with the goal of building more meaningful connections. Ultimately, building more meaningful connections strengthens a community.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Citation. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved June 27, 2023, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/community
Susman, K. (2021). Between the tiles: The psychology of the virtual room. Appropriating and subverting the digital sphere for authentic and meaningful encounter. Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 20(4), 327–344. https://doi.org/10.1080/14779757.2021.1938180