Virtual Communities Don’t Exist: Avoiding Digital Dualism in Studying Collaboration

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A talk by PJ Rey and Nathan Jurgenson, University of Maryland at the COSM2013 Conference at Bowdoin College. Effective collaboration in communities requires information sharing. Though digital media may have certain affordances that encourage us to communicate differently than in the past, the communities these media facilitate are no less real than communities bound together by voice or text. In this paper, we argue that idea of “virtual communities” is misleading. Communities and collaboration occur not in some virtual world or a new, cyber, space, but instead they are part of one reality influenced simultaneously by materiality and the various flows of information—digital included. In light of this argument, we implore researchers to take serious the influence of digitality, and, specific to this conference, those looking primarily at digitality to take seriously the materiality, bodies, history, and politics not separate from but deeply interpenetrating the digital. The changes in community organization brought about by digital media should not be thought of or called “virtual” (e.g., “virtual teams” as opposed to real ones), but instead part of one augmented community

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