Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Codger Web: Virtual Villages Connecting Cyberspace and Meatspace

Conjunctions between virtual space and physical space: retirees, teens, and graffiti writers.

The New York Times is running an article about virtual villages of retires. The members of these virtual villages live in more or less the same geographic area, but the village is not legally incorporated as a village not is it one single piece of real estate. The real estate is distributed, but people share tasks and lives:
Now, Mr. Cloud has all the support he needs. He can tap into Capital City Village’s network of more than 100 service companies referred by members. Dozens of volunteers will walk his dog or do yard work. When he wants to meet people, Mr. Cloud can attend house concerts in a member’s home, go to happy hour at the local Mexican restaurant or hear a champion storyteller give a talk. He has also made over 40 village friends...

These villages are low-cost ways to age in place and delay going to costly assisted-living facilities, say experts. Yearly membership dues average about $450 nationally, and most villages offer subsidies for people who cannot afford membership costs. Armies of volunteers, who help run many villages, also help lower member costs by doing yard work, picking up prescriptions or taking members shopping or to the airport.

At the core of these villages is conciergelike service referrals for members, said Judy Willett, national director of the Village to Village Network. Members can find household repair services, and sometimes even personal trainers, chefs or practitioners of Reiki, the Japanese healing technique. Most important, the villages foster social connections through activities like potlucks, happy hours and group trips.
The internet provides some of the asynchronous communicative interaction that helps keep these villages together:
Virtual village members stay in touch through village websites and email, or by calling local village offices. Many villages also turn to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to stay in touch, Ms. Willett added.
Frankly, this sounds a bit like the networked lives of the teens danah boyd [yes, i know, but that's how she spells her name, all lower case] describes in It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. One of the reasons teens are so often online is that they can't get together in physical space. Between jam-packed activity schedules and restrictions on access to physical space – e.g. malls no longer allow groups of teens to cruise like they did back in the 1980s – it's just too difficult to get together with your friends as often as you'd like. Solution: hang-out online.

And even before cyberspace, there was graffiti in the New York subway system, which was a way for disenfranchised teens to communicate with one another city-wide – thru signs on trains – and claim city-space for their own. But that's another story.

But here's what I'm thinking: People live at certain physical places. Those places are, of course, persistent. And most people live for at least several years, if not decades, in the same physical location. But we now have cyberspace and it's been around long enough that we have persisting communities in cyberspace. For example, I've been hanging out in cyberspace with some of the same people for well over a decade, people I've never physically met. Of course, I also hang out with people I know in the physical space of northern New Jersey, where I've lived for the last decade and a half.

So, let's construct two network graphs and connect them. One is a graph of persisting communities in physical space and the other is a graph of persisting communities in cyberspace. How does that graph change over time?

That's the world we're now living in. Some of us, of course, are more deeply embedded in it than others. And many of the world's peoples have little or no access to cyberspace, so they're not in this world at all. That's a problem.

A big one.

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