Community… Latin…noun… from communis, meaning fellowship, community of relationships or feelings.  
(The compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1971)    



The urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg  in his Great Good Place talks about the gathering places where the members of a community hang out for the pleasure of good company and conversation.  What he calls great good place is the local bar, bistro, tavern, café, coffeehouse, bookstore, hair saloon etc, a place which is neither the home nor the workplace but is “remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends” and  is “…the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy…”

 Today, however, many of those places serve neither coherent communities nor emphemeral relationships among relative strangers. Moreover, many people in the Western world are receiving a sense of community and great good place from cyberspace. 

But can good places‘ important function toward forming communities be found in cyberspace ?  The fact is that the emphemeral relationships among relative strangers is  found in internet communities too. Furthermore, they “can reproduce many of the characteristics of face-to-face communities: they offer support, empathy, and an environment in which members can develop a sense of belonging and social identity. In addition, online groups often have social structures found in face-to-face society, including culture, norms, sanctions, and reciprocal relations.”  Real-life status criteria are also not entirely absent online, though  online communities can interact ignoring differences such as race, gendre, class etc. 


 Though virtual spaces are important and vibrant, they cannot be compared with the  physical meeting places  because a real life “great good place” involves the environment and the  physical presence. And face-to-face is a powerful and effective tool of communicating in ways that written communication cannot match. It  is essential to a person’s sense of well being  and is deeply hostile to the dark side of individualism.    Besides, claiming a great good place “as existing ‘in cyberspace’ is misleading , because the cyberspace does not exist as a distinct, separate realm from the real life, but forms a complementary relation with the later“.  

Nevertheless, internet can be thought  as  an open access to  knowledge, public collaboration and public self-expression. As for me personally, the very essence of the internet is the access to cultures and interesting, thinking people from around the world. Those people that make me better able to understand the other, everytime I return to the real world, I would like to invite to a real life  ” great good place” to enjoy a bottle of wine along with tasty treats, laughter and great conversation.



10 thoughts on ““A GREAT GOOD PLACE”

  1. I agree, the cyberspace friend thing is misleading and many people seem to believe that their cyber friends are friends in the “great good place sense.” Unfortunately, physical proximity is important in forming the strong bonds needed for friendship, but that that is not to say that cyberspace friendships cannot lead to more if and when people meet F2F. Some people, I have found, seem to prefer the anonymity of cyber and eschew F2F meetings for whatever reason. My husband once remarked that cyberspace, one is free to present a certain persona to the world. As an old cartoon caption said, “Nobody knows you’re a dog on the Internet.”

    I cherish (really) the Internet for the amazing interplay of interesting people and ideas floating around out there, as you say. And thank you for being one of those interesting people, too.

  2. Nothing compares to a face to face meeting since cyberspace lacks the pathways by which people communicate with and connect to each other: hearing, seeing, smelling, touching the other.
    Many people use internet as an exclusive pattern of social communication and interpersonal relationship. Well, it is true that “Nobody knows you’re a dog on the Internet” but in the long run this is not fulfilling as a substitute, is it?
    However, I agree, cyberspace friendships can lead to wonderful real-life relationships. 🙂

  3. This is such an interesting post Mariana; it is a discussion I have had many times with my kids who grew up with Facebook and such and think nothing of getting on a plane to spend a weekend with people they met on the internet and never f2f!
    I have a lot of reservations and am fully aware of the limitations of this one-dimensional type of communication. It is totally misleading in my opinion! Face to face is real. Point final.

  4. Excellent post! While I have found what I consider very good friendship in cyberspace, there is a certain lack of commitment and complete openness in these virtual relationships. I realize that while I enjoy the ‘personal’ interaction, I am actually unwilling to share basic personal information (such as my face and name) that might naturally come about in a f2f exchange! An online community is a marvelous way of meeting new people and exchanging information, but it should be a step toward meaningful relationships, not a substitute for them. I’m fortunate to have met in person a couple of bloggers with whom I first connected online; I hope that there will be many more such opportunities!

  5. Real and lasting friendships are those that have been built through time, that have been tested. A friend is a person who’s there, physically, for you, during wonderful times in your life, real horrible ones or just in simple day-to-day life. You can’t have a “friend” in the traditional sense through the internet. To me, that is impossible. You can have some great acquaintances, people you share interests with, people whose opinion on certain subjects you respect and find interesting but friends, no. Potential friends yes, if eventually you meet face to face. Only then you can really tell.

  6. Joumana, Tracey, Magda,
    Though extracting out vision or voice creates unique ways to interact with others and the ability to use imagination and fantasy can be a fascinating dimension to a relationship, the truth is that we don’t connect to the other person by one sense alone.
    Eyes, ears, skin, noses, and tongues – are interconnected in marvelous ways and make relationships highly robust in emotion and meaning. We need voices, facial expressions, body language to convey meaning and emotion… we need hearing and sight… We need to do things with our friends instead of using hints of physical contact….

    And yes Tracey, there is a certain lack of commitment in cyber relationships… though we can meet potential friends Magda, and enjoy the ” amazing interplay of interesting people and ideas floating around out there”, as Cynthia says. But Joumana, I am really curious about the social networking generations. Do they put less value on the “real world”? Are they able to form relationships as they do not learn the physical clues involved with communication?

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