Communities split

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The governor's mansion in the virtual world Second Life (Image copyright 2003, Linden Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Landscape in the virtual world Second Life (Image copyright 2003, Linden Research, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Declaring difference in physical commercial space (Albuquerque)

Secession is the rule in virtual space. The Protestant principle rules: Set up your own place and community if you don't like ours. No conversation is obligatory. There is no scarcity of virtual "land" to prevent an endless exfoliation of new communities. Because there's always more room, there is no forced proximity demanding that you overhear the neighbors or meet them on the street. Communities can fraction, break off and each fill their own space. Some may be overlapping but many move out of contact. It's happening with magazines and cable channels as well. Segment the agora.

Yet even with that separation, you can't avoid politics and economics, because there are always some scarce resources. I may not have to see your virtual world or overhear your community conversation, but we all share concerns about the capacity of Internet connections and the state of computer equipment. Real world scarcities can force debate among separated virtual communities.

In the one-dimensional community briefly described in Edwin Abbott's Flatland, (Abbott 1884), the inhabitants living along the line can only hear one another, as there is no second dimension for presenting views of oneself; community is structured through style, loudness, and dominant continuity of voice. When net communities could only use ASCII text the situation was similar, but as bandwidth grows the Internet can begin to provide new dimensions for visual and gestural self-presentation. Will the identity of an ongoing conversation be enough to define a community? Doesn't a community also need a place, a setting, something that holds memory and allows ritual and fosters a mode of interaction and a style? Social grammar needs to be embodied.