Ok, my comments are out of sync. A lot of discussion went on while I was composing my thoughts and email also distracted me. I will post it anyway, although I feel like the Mike Myer’s character on SNL who was always five minutes behind the conversation. Your patience please and hopefully this won’t be inane. I must say that so far I don’t mind the blog… but maybe emailing would be easier. we shall see.
In regards to Anna's first comment, I never realized the extent I was used to twenty-four hour convenience until I went to Italy. I ended up studying there several times and began to enjoy the differences-- the stores having shorter hours and the town shutting down on Sundays or major holidays. When I was a House Fellow in Florence, one of my duties was to try and get the American students interested and aware of different aspects of Italian culture. I found that most students spent more time emailing their friends in the US than in trying to meet Italian students. While there is a certain fear in meeting other students (especially in a different country), I wonder if I would have been more successful if students were 'cut off' from home and became more involved in the here and now. Online activities can be very secluding. Even the cell phone can become a means of avoidance, whether you are chatting, checking your email, or playing a game- it says, "don't bother me." It is weird to sit in a train car full of people without anyone interacting with one another.
When does it become a crutch? Interpersonal skills needed in face-to-face contact are such a necessity. And I do think it is easier to communicate online because you are more in control. You select the topic/ area of interest, or if it public or private. It is a selective means of finding your peer group. There is less risk and can allow for more open communication.
I found Rheingold to be overly enthusiastic and romantic in his description of virtual communities. Certainly, it was amazing what he found online- information, contacts, and comfort. I think it is an overstatement that it is a “hark back to times before social community began to crumble.” I found his sense of communion overdone.
At the same time, I did find the chapters an interesting read and worthy of comment. Rheingold states that "a sense of place requires imagination." So what skills are people picking up in their involvement within the virtual community? Does it require greater imagination? How is it changing our use of language and etiquette? Does it require more critical skills? I like how elements of body language make it into online communication- where the smiley face or frown stand in place for our physical facial expression and help to ensure that there is no misinterpretation.