Stumbling around the web today I came across this Sacha Judd piece on still believing in heroes (which, to be clear, is predominantly about online community; you should read that and then come back) which quotes an old Laurie Voss thread about whether or not “humans are capable of handling a global internet”. Voss concedes Dunbar’s number (“a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”) but notes that human also happen quite readily to live in cities.
People often complain that cities are cold and impersonal but this is a feature, not a bug. Cities are survivable only because we found a way to coexist without interacting. The internet needs this feature.
I’m going to set aside Voss’ recommendations for how this happens, because it’s pretty focused on algorithms, and while he’s right that for many people manual curation can be something of an insurmountable problem, our algotithmic approach hasn’t fared too well. Mostly I just wanted to highlight this general notion of community size.
I don’t have the cognitive wherewithal to actually write something here, but these questions fold around into how we construct identity, the difference between place and space, how the built environment affects our brains, the notion of micro-neighborliness, the need to compare how we behave and build online and off, and how we do have need for public places.
It’s also a weird bit of serendipity (a social value that also appears in at least one of the above-linked posts about offline life, as well as one or two about online life), this notion of community size is prominent and cruical to Mark W. Moffett’s arguments in my current nonfiction read, The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall.
Moffett talks a lot about the differences between societies which function based upon individual recogntion and those which effectively function anonymously, and it seems to me that for humans to be capable of handling a global internet, the interplay of communities there somehow needs to inhabit and incorporate both dynamics.
ETA: I’m so cognitively drained from the nonsense birthday that I forgot to double back to the Judd piece for the quandary which seems key.
Messy, unmoderated, public spaces like Twitter and Tumblr are terrible for underrepresented voices because they get harrassed, drowned out, and driven away.
But structured, moderated, controlled spaces don’t allow underrepresented voices to call out racism, transphobia and misogyny without asking anyone for permission.
I don’t double back in order to offer any solutions, just to underscore that the answers, whatever they are, somehow must address the strengths and weaknesses of both the messy and the structured.