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Creating communities in cyberspace

This article was originally published on www.catholica.com.au.

Building communities through  cyberspace

In many ways the internet is turning into the revolution for our post-WWII generations that the birth of the motor car, the aeroplane and radio communications was for our parents' and grandparents' generations. Amanda McKenna almost lives in cyerbspace these days, as does her husband, the editor of Catholica, Brian Coyne. In separate ways a large part of their work today is focused on finding ways in which the net might be used in service of communicating the gospel message of Jesus and building mutually supportive communities. In this commentary, Milly relates two recent experiences that she has found uplifting…

Two events...

Two events in the past week have presented themselves 'right under my nose' and caused me to put finger to key ("pen to paper" has become a reference to a former time!) to speak once again about the power for good or ill of the advent of the internet.

The first happened in a discussion community I belong to on the 'net. This discussion community boasts more than 11,000 members from around the world and the topics of posts range from asparagus and the joys of raising pre-teens to the politics of the Iraqi war and the worries of army wives of deployed husbands and fathers. In other words, there is no 'agenda', so much as a sense of community.

One of the women there posted about how people she had met online have helped her through traumas in her life and how grateful she was for the sense of belonging and acceptance from others she found there.

The other event occurred as my husband I and drove into the city. We listened to the BBC World News and they reported on a story in China where, due to access of people to the internet, a major slave-labour racket has been broken and a large number of people, many of whom were children, were freed from the most horrendous conditions...all due to public alertness and pressure. That's people power! (You can read the report at: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6761217.stm)

A "global" family…

This song, which Amanda will be performing on Thursday night at Eastern Creek for the Catholic Teachers Sleep-Out for the Vinnies, and again at 6.00am on Friday morning at Telstra Stadium for the public sleep-out also led to a fascinating international cyber-cooperation. This video clip was put together by a friend of Amanda's in the United States who herself was once homeless. As a result of hearing the song via the internet community Amanda refers to in the accompanying article she went out and took the photos, and sourced others from the net, and put this production together. It might not be "Church" or "parish" in the traditional sense we have known it but this is certainly "building community". This is not the song Milly is referring to in the text of her article. That's a new project she is now working on. We are in the process of updating Amanda's own website at www.amandamckenna.com.au in our endeavours to further the general endeavour of finding new ways to use the internet as a means of building community.

More and more I am hearing of things like this that are being exposed to the light and justice being done because people are getting online and talking with one another; forming relationships and sharing their lives with one another. All-of-a-sudden ordinary parents, searching for their missing children, are able to get online and get the word out with pictures and bypass the obstacles to appeal to other ordinary people just like themselves.

And once again I am struck by how we are living through the birth-pangs of a new awareness that we truly are a global family. At no other time in history have we the ordinary people of the planet been able to communicate and form relationships with others across the globe regardless of things like race, religion (or lack thereof) and national boundaries.

A new song project…

And, being a songwriter, I started to get ideas for a new song talking about this very thing. With this in mind, I posted on the discussion board asking for people to share with me their own insights about their experiences online and I have been literally gobsmacked by the responses I've been receiving ever since.

Some have talked about their own sense of isolation or of being misunderstood by the people they know in "3D" (in their personal lives offline) and of finding people they can connect with online. They've talked about how they have learned so much from others; lessons they've been able to incorporate into their own lives to make lasting changes. Others have talked about births, deaths, trials and joys all shared with friends they have made online - real friendships in real lives right across the globe.

We all hear about the dangers of 'meeting people online' and the internet is certainly a 'place' where one can find representations of the whole gamut of human experience. We hear so much about things that go wrong, but rarely do we focus on those instances when things go better than right.

The 'events' I referred to above are just two examples of how something as powerful as the internet can be used for good. And as we become more and more accustomed to this relatively new technology, we are rightly becoming more concerned about how we relate to one another online.

We are living in 'interesting times' as the Chinese saying goes, and have before us an opportunity to set the tone in our online encounters that may have ramifications for many years to come. What legacy we leave for future generations from this time of great change and innovation in history is entirely up to us.

 Amanda McKenna quote

AvatarMilly is the pen name of musician and composer Amanda McKenna. She is the wife and business and creative partner of the Editor of Catholica, Brian Coyne.

Photo Credits: The images used to create the background to the heading have been sourced from stock.xchng. The photographers who submitted the photos are: Rodolfo Clix, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Sanja Gjenero, Zagreb, Croatia.

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Posted on 18 Jun 2007 by Milly

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