Infinite Loop 20: We Are Community

On October 23, 2000, in Features, by David K Schultz

[Note: This is a
revised, updated and very much expanded version
of an article entitled "Mac Communitarianism"
that first appeared on the now deceased "MacOS
daily" site back in Feb. of 2000.]

When I was at the MWSF
Expo
in January I was in heaven, figuratively
speaking of course. I saw was people from around
the world coming together because of a simple
little machine. These people shared many of my
beliefs about the Mac and, indeed, the world.
We don’t agree on everything in life: That wouldn’t
be fun! But what I saw was a disparate community
come together at a localized point. These people
had similar goals, interests, and sometimes even
backgrounds. I couldn’t help but ask, “Why is
there such thing as the Mac Community anyway?”
How did all of this happen? These are important
questions. They are important for the following
reasons: Once we understand what a community is
and that Mac users form such an entity, we understand
the unique tie that seems to bind Mac users together.

What strikes me about the Mac Community
is that, as I said in a recent
article
, it seems to be a spontaneously generated
organism — it just sort of sprang up all over
the place, like so many other communities, and
it is vital and living. And all because of a computer,
a simple machine, supposedly. If you don’t find
this interesting, maybe you will after this series
of articles.

So over the next few articles I
will look at the Mac Community using my training
as a philosopher to help me understand the whole
phenomenon of the Mac Community. I will look at
regular, common sense communities and draw analogies
and similarities to the Mac Community, I will
look at the myths and heroes that have helped to
found the Mac Community, and help found any community,
how it deals with disagreements like the current
debates over OS X and the TiBook. It will turn
out to be a fascinating journey …

The General Meaning of “Community”

Let us work from examples
to a definition. The archetypal community is of
course a small town. I live in the mid west where
there are many such communities just outside the
city I live in. These are small towns where you
can walk along the street without fear, for you
know that a friend is always just around the corner.
After all, everyone knows each other. You can
take your car to the service station knowing that
you will not be taken advantage of, for the person
who works on your car may after all be your neighbor,
or even family. In such a community, people are
bound together in a network of relationships.
This network is formed through dependency. The
family depends on the grocer, the grocer depends
on the farmer, and the farmer depends on both.

Within this larger community are
smaller communities, such as coworkers, the PTA,
and places of worship. These communities share
values and many times beliefs. They act for the
same goals because they have the same values;
they behave similarly because they share beliefs
about the structure of the world. Because they
share these beliefs and values they share ideas
about what the world is like, what is wrong with
it, and what can be done to make it better. That
is, they act for a common good, common to them
anyway. They also share a sense of obligation
to each other, obligations they do not share with
others. Their neighbors’ problems are their problems.
There is a solidarity among the members of these
communities.

Within these smaller communities
there are smaller ones yet, such as families and
friends. These are the smallest and most closely-knit
communities. For lack of a better phrase, the
members of these communities share a “we-ness,”
a sense of belonging. The larger communities share
this we-ness as well, but on a larger scale and
not in the face-to-face manner of the smaller
communities. This sense of belonging can take
two forms. They belong to another, be it a wife,
father, or son, and daughter. Or, they belong
to something larger, the community itself. The
sense of obligation, the network of relationships,
the common good are stronger in these smaller
communities because the relationships that form
them are tighter and more dependent. The smaller
the community the stronger the obligations persons
have to one another.

Yet all these communities, the
larger down to the smaller, all share something.
Their members belong to something greater than
themselves which infuses their lives with a sense
of purpose and meaning. Communities, it seems,
are meaning-conferring entities: Communities
give one a sense of purpose and belonging which
he lacks in other contexts. This is true
from the township kind of community down to the
family. This meaning conferring situation gives
one the sense that he is not alone, that he is
in this (whatever “this” is) together with others.
He feels taken care of, he feels support, and
he feels obligated to others and their situation
in the world. He also believes others are obligated
to him so he feels protected.

This does not mean that members
of a community share ALL values, beliefs and obligations.
Communities involve persons who may not see eye-to-eye
on everything in every situation. This happens
even on the family level! But when disagreement
occurs within a community, and it is civil, there
is always something greater that puts the disagreement
into context, or for which its resolution is a
means. The greater good and the common goals are
more important than the disagreements, and shape
how we determine whether there is a disagreement
in the first place, how strong the disagreement
is, and the form the resolution of the disagreement
takes.

This then is a community and the
relationships which define it. You can see where
I am going. All the relationships present in the
kinds of communities I just spoke about are present
in this thing we call the “Mac Community” too.
Let me explain . . .

The Mac Community

The Mac Community
(I will use capital letters to show I am talking
about a specific entity), is made up of a network
of relationships. This network is vast and is
constituted on several levels. For example, it
is made up of the Mac Web Community, like us at
Applelust.com. The members of the Mac Web Community
serve different functions just like the grocer
and farmer in archetypal communities. There are
how-to sites, troubleshooting sites, news sites,
commentary sites, software and hardware review
sites, advocacy sites, and other kinds of sites
which make up the Mac Web Community. And each
serves an important function within the community.
I find myself going to how-to sites and troubleshooting
sites all the time. I do this not necessarily
because I am having Mac troubles, but because
I just like to keep abreast of things. Beyond
this, I visit them because I get information,
and this information may help another Mac user.
I have a sense of communal obligation to other
users I guess.

The Forum

One important aspect of the
Mac Web Community is the discussion forum. Many
sites have these. (And we will have them soon,
we hope.) They are places people of like-mind
congregate to talk about the Mac. The communal
sense, the sense of obligation and fellowship,
is evident in these forums. I will post a message
asking “Which hard drive should I get? How do
I . . .?” and within a day fellow Mac users from
around the world have helped me out. This amazes
me. We don’t know each other. I have never met
them face-to-face. And to tell you the truth,
it really doesn’t matter. The replies and help
I receive contain that sense of we-ness I spoke
of earlier. Many replies begin something like
this: “I had the same question/problem/concern.”
“The same . . .” That is community. That is fellowship.
So I find myself going back to these forums to
answer others’ questions, to lend a helping hand
if I can. We are all in this together. We depend
on each other. We all “depend on the kindness
of strangers” on the Mac Web.

The web is often said to be impersonal.
It is in many ways. Even as a writer I feel so
limited making my meaning clear in a simple email.
It’s just words and we know that words are only
a part of communication. Yet as I spend time in
these forums it has a way of transcendending me
into a larger community. It is a community not
bounded by space and time and borders. It doesn’t
matter if someone is three thousand miles away,
or that I have never (and will never) meet him.
We are members of the same community because we
both use a simple machine. I know I have a connection
with people all over the world and we help each
other out.

The User Group

As the PTA is to the small town,
so the user group is to the Mac Web Community,
I guess. There we find people seeking a common
good too. The sense of we-ness is greater in these
groups because the contact is more personal. It
cuts across disciplines too. In my local user
group there are people who work in desktop publishing,
the web, network administrators, and what I call
“Everyman,” the teacher, the cab driver, and the
artist who simply love the Mac. There is an immediate
fellowship one feels when walking into this community.
“So, what kind of Mac do you have?” is the first
question. “What was your first Mac?” we are asked.
We all know why we’re there. It is simply understood.
The common good we seek is to be the best Mac
users we can be. And we do this by coming together
and learning from the experience and knowledge
of others. In the user group, all are equals.

And So On …

Within
the Mac Web Community are numerous other communities
too. Think about it . . .

One very small
community I feel a part of is, believe it or not,
the Apple guys at the local CompUSA. I am in there
all the time. I even know them by their first
name, what they did before coming to CompUSA,
and their children’s names (if any). They always
greet me with a “Hey Dave! How ya doin’?!” We
speak the same language. “Finder. Gigaflop. OSX.
The Expo.” This similarity of language
is grounded in similarity of interests. There
we are, in the back of the store, in our own little
“Store within a Store” community, beneath the
large “Think Different” banners. We feel special;
we fell different; we feel like we belong. It
is in fact a small community.

Smaller yet are Mac
communities within Mac communities. Every model
of the Mac represents a community. There is the
sub-community of G4 owners for example. There
are G4 forums on the web where we congregate to
talk and brag about our Gigaflop Graphite Wonder.
The signature on our emails reads “. . . and G4
owner!” There is no doubt about it: We feel very
special, but not better than other Mac users.
We’re power users, but we freely welcome all to
our ranks. The more the merrier. That is our philosophy.

Then there is the SE/30
group: the die hard loyalists who, simply because
they are still using, or at least still value,
the SE/30, tell us they have been with Apple for
a long time. They have suffered the slings and
arrows of outrageous CEOs, behind-the-back deals,
the firing of Steve Jobs, the return of Steve
Jobs, and software development missteps. They
are Mac loyal to the bone.

Then there is
the iMac/iBook community. This is one of my favorite
communities. This is Everyman. Families, children,
retirees, and all kinds of people who have just
discovered the iMac make up this community. Most,
though not all, do not know all the technical
details. They don’t have to and that is why they
got an iMac in the first place. They just plain
love the Mac. They have the iMac displayed prominently
in their home.

The Mac Community is rich a varied,
like many other communities. We are not all the
same. But we do have similar interests and goals,
though many time we differ in background knowledge.
Because of the varied nature of the Mac Community,
which at the same time has similar goals and interests,
the dependent relationships are formed of which
I spoke earlier. We might want to accomplish the
same ends, but some have great facility in doing
so. Others depend on them. Or maybe the goals
and ends are such that it takes a Community to
achieve them. Whatever the issue, we need each
other.

Indeed, this is only part of the
story of the Mac Community. It is a very large
story. I will look into this notion further next
time because it really gets interesting. I will
look at the role of myth and heroes in forming
a community and show what our myths and heroes
are in the Mac Community.

It is all so interesting,
if you just … think about it …

 

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