Online Communities and Me

Hailing from a small town, I am often reminded of the differences between rural and urban living. Quite often, frankly. The biggest dissimilarity has to be community. Or, rather, a sense of community. In a city such as Toronto, this sense of community is inherent in niches, in pockets. A city divided by its well-known neighbourhoods, which are defined on almost stereotypical grounds. Let’s take an introspective look. The Beaches: rife with dog lovers/walkers. Downtown: Businessmen or tourists. Little Italy: old Italian men by day, trendy youngsters by night. The Annex: artists (or, I should rephrase, struggling artists). Kensignton: Ditto sans the cars. Cabbagetown: a diverse hodgepodge of the artsy, homeless and old. Queen Street West: hipsters/trendsters/scenesters. Chinatown: Well, you get the idea.

It’s a city built on neighbourhoods in their own right. It comes with the territory of being defined as the most diverse city in the world. And with nearly three million residents calling it home (that’s not including the GTA, which makes up more than five million) you need to have separate communities or districts. If not, how do you identify? Who do you identify with? Where you identify with makes up part of your identity. I know that Torontonians tend to judge based on where in the city we call home. Even by the areas by which we work. It’s not a bad thing whatsoever; it’s simple labeling based on where you call home. Given stereotypes (we all do it, because it’s quicker, as George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air articulates) on a geographical sector of the city, they help shed light on an individual’s social-economic status, interests, and likes. And as quickly as I witnessed that vast difference between community in rural and urban spaces, I’m seeing/identifying with a new world of community. Online communities.

Just like you reading this, certain blogs that I read, and websites that I explore, define many of my interests; just like my iPod displays the bands I’m partial towards. The Internet is also a hub of communities. Like one giant city split into myriad fractions. Depending on your interests and personality, websites are dictated towards specific readers/viewers. It’s a garden salad of niche communities. Thousands of niches based on, say, country music alone. But the virtual niche can only reach so far – and can only be so fulfilling. Like this blog and its respective community, we need to interact in person with events, concerts, lunch. Although our physical and online communities might define some of our interests, it’s up to us to come together. I will leave it to the great and late Kurt Vonnegut to sum this up, nicely: “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” Agreed.

–RYAN BOLTON

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