[Air-l] Community and Commerce

Wendy Robinson wgrobin at duke.edu
Tue Dec 25 22:32:37 PST 2001

Do we not shop in our real-world communities?  Are we not appealed to with 
advertisements?  Where is the disconnect with online communities?

Are virtual communities different today (this may have been partially what 
David was initially inquiring about)?  Can they still be theorized as 
utopian, even other worldly?  If so, does that take us back to 1992, rather 
than helping us develop theory for post-dot-com 2002?

I'm really asking, partially from a pedagogical standpoint.  My experience 
is that undergraduates today rarely are aware of a pre-commercial Internet; 
they can hardly get their heads around the concept that seems to strike 
them as quaint, not part of their experience hence interest.  It's history, 
and all that that implies.

The world that we're preparing them for is a world in which the Net has 
been mainstreamed.  As has been often discussed with AoIR and the digital 
divide and legal issues, the Net isn't removed from real-world 
complexities.  Money isn't far behind, if it is behind, race, gender, 
sexuality and identity in instigating such complexities.

I'm unconvinced that the skills that students need to make sense of 
offline/online today can be understood without taking into account 
commercialization (hopefully with equanimity, although it can be difficult) 
or doesn't make use of other media theory by inference that also has had to 
come to terms with real-world financial concerns (e.g., newspapers, radio, 
television, the pamphleteering of nonprofit organizations).

In 2002, what might an online community without commerce have to 
offer?  What are representative examples?  What would such a community feel 
like from a participating member's standpoint?  How would the community be 
economically sustained?  Does no commerce or company affiliation mean no 
marketing messages?  Would such a community necessarily be marginalized or 
otherwise insular (e.g., an "Amish" community of the online world)?  What 
could be learned from such a community?

Wendy Robinson
wgrobin at duke.edu

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