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Photo of Karen Ward
Talking online community

Posted on 31 August 2010, 3:20

Had a very enjoyable and sparky 90 minutes at the Online Community discussion at Greenbelt last night. I was one of the panel members, sitting alongside the journalist Andrew Brown, who edits Cif belief on the Guardian, and episcopal priest Karen Ward, who curates several online communities, including Anglimergent. Keeping us in order was Kester Brewin, founding member of Vaux whose new book Other was published in the summer. I didn’t take any photos, but found the picture of Karen (above) on the Net.

Just a few personal highlights from the session, which is already available as an MP3 download from the Greenbelt site…

Talking about Anglimergent, Karen says the community requires members use their real names and give their real diocese and parish to prove they are genuine. ‘I actually investigate everyone who joins. Once you get over the 1,000 mark you become a target for all sorts of malicious, false people joining, so now I have to moderate membership, and I can pretty much spot a fake in five seconds.’

I (of course) enjoyed Andrew’s remark, when asked if there is an online community in Cif belief: ‘I wouldn’t remotely say that we had a community half as successful as Ship of Fools, for a number of reasons, but the simple reason is that we don’t have a rule against crusading, in the way that they do, so that people feel perfectly able to come in, make the same point, take no notice and bugger off.’

Karen also runs an offline church, the Church of the Apostles, which uses online tools to facilitate community. When people can’t come to their Vespers service on a Wednesday night, they tweet prayers with the church’s hashtag, which are collected for the service and read out.

Kester asked us about the positive and negative impacts of social media on us. My negative was the incredible fragmentation of attention as you keep checking Facebook and Twitter every 15 minutes to see what’s new, which Karen said could become addiction: playing Farmville all the time, or sleeping with your iPhone next to your ear.

But on the positive side, I talked about the way Facebook in particular connects us with friends who are geographically distant: ‘Being able to have a casual laugh at something they’ve said, or make some clever comment – to have this frivolous contact, which you might have if you worked in an office with them, I like that a lot. When I see them next, which might be months or even a couple of years, there’ll be a continuity of relationship happening on that level.’

Andrew responded: ‘I was struck by what Simon said about it being like working in the office with someone, because I do spend quite a lot of time in the office with people, and it’s amazing how I will be sitting two chairs down from someone and reading her twitterstream because she no longer talks to the people immediately around her.’

And he continued… ‘The really big change that technology has brought about is how much easier it is to fall in love with people that you’ve never met. We live at a time when the physical and visual image of sexual attraction is everywhere, but online, people fall in love with each others’ minds, and they find it easier to do so than ever before. And that’s a very curious fact, and probably rather a good one.’

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This technology is useful for the young and those who work in offices but most of my friends and acquaintances do not! Church leaders often don’t keep up with email and one I know refuses to use a computer. Facebook put me in touch a bit with my niece’s kids but otherwise I keep in touch sporadically with far away friends (and my systems analyst upstairs) by email. Few of my friends use computers.

Jean Walker, Tue 31 Aug, 14:30

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