Particularly as a result of the prolonged isolation we all are experiencing as a result of the Corona virus, the idea of community has taken on a special importance. Something that many of us had taken for granted for much of our lives has now become something that is pined for. Community is a grouping of people that provides emotional grounding within a larger human setting as well as emotional bonding between individuals.
Up until recently, one of the assumptions regarding community was that it was based on primary experiences of people being able to periodically mingle with one another in the external world. Usually, there was a physical place in the external world where people could congregate and experience one another as three-dimensional flesh and blood beings. A place of worship, a company lunchroom, a social club, a lodge, a fraternity or sorority, a village hall, a legislative chamber, etc. These places were templates where people could make, receive and preserve organic imprints while bonding with one another. So communities contributed to people living more vibrant lives and preparing for death with surrogate immortalities.
Now there are people who are not pining for traditional communities, because they are very content during the Covid pandemic, to interact with others through Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, and FaceTime. That is through modern digital sources of mediated experience. They have their work meetings on screen reality. Their religious services on screen reality. Their government assemblies, their social gatherings, their weddings and funerals (at least partly on screen reality).
The truth is that most of us are using screen reality for our diverse group functions. But some of us are just doing it out of necessity to protect ourselves from the virus, and others of us have gotten to actively enjoy screen reality so much that we want to continue to actively use it a lot, even after the pandemic is contained.
For many people, screen reality has become the template of choice for human interaction.
The question is can a screen reality community provide as much grounding and opportunity for bonding as a community based in the external world. One of the problems with screen reality communities is the diminished number and quality of sensory experiences available in order to embrace the community. Obviously, one can’t touch or smell someone in screen reality. One also can’t engage in what I previously have called prehensile vision – vision that, because it is three-dimensional, allows one to visually grab hold of that which one is looking at. Without prehensile vision, there is an air of unreality to the people with whom one is interacting on the screen. They are flat and lack mass, matter, substance and texture.
Furthermore, there is an air of unreality to the backdrop against which these people appear. Or maybe that is the problem, that it is just a two-dimensional backdrop and not a three-dimensional living environment capable of providing a meaningful template for human interaction and bonding.
The whole structure of the situation prevents it from creating the kind of impelling flowing blendable continual connections that are the hallmark of a real community. All the people on the screen are vacuumized, ghostly entities floating in an experiential vacuum. How can a person really bond or leave imprints when there is no width or breadth to touch?
Communities are significantly diminished when they are reduced to screen encounters. As this continues, people will feel more and more isolated as more and more of their human connections end up on a screen. Organic communities will fall apart as organic relationships start to disappear. It’s not good.