I really appreciated reading this recent essay by Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble. He talks about the paradoxes of seeking out community and connection in social media spaces that are private and profit-oriented property, “digital spaces that feel public, but are not.”
He talks about the care and maintenance that truly public space requires, the need to design such spaces with diverse publics in mind, and the importance and value of sustained interaction and unexpected encounter:
“Public spaces are so generative precisely because we run into people we’d normally avoid, encounter events we’d never expect, and have to negotiate with other groups that have their own needs. The social connections that run-ins create, social scientists tell us, are critical in binding communities together across lines of difference. Building a healthy community requires the careful generation of this thick web of social ties. Rapid growth can quickly overwhelm and destroy it—as anyone who has lived in a gentrifying neighborhood knows.”
For me, the essay brings home the need for online community spaces built with a more collective ethos in mind, meant to nurture connection rather than to capture attention, and founded on shareable infrastructure rather than proprietary space. Why keep convening on someone else’s lawn?