Skip to main content

Beyond the Valley: Are We There Yet?

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
November 2009 Issue
September 27, 2009

Beyond the Valley: Are We There Yet?

The Virtual Valley was supposed to bring us all together. Our physical location was supposed to matter less than with whom we connected online. Yet, there seem to be limits to our online social networks.

Researchers have studied online communities for almost three decades, often assuming virtual communities were going to liberate us from traditional barriers. This year we saw evidence that barriers persist online.

Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist at Northwestern University, calls this the “Whose Space?” phenomenon. Users, however, being less politically correct than academics, have rechristened MySpace as “MyGhetto,”  “GangstaSpace” and “MyHood.”

According to Hargittai’s data, Hispanics are twice as likely to use MySpace as Facebook. There is also a high correlation between educational level and which social sites someone uses. Of those using a social site, 86 percent of college graduates use Facebook while this group continues an exodus from MySpace.

The concern expressed by researchers is that we continue to self-select and segregate online. It’s a natural tendency for people to gather with people like themselves. Despite hopes that differences would be less obvious online, the opposite is true. If anything, we have more ways to segregate ourselves.

When I look at the online profiles of my Facebook friends, they are a rather homogeneous group. Most are college graduates. They tend to share links to news stories, especially science news. None list country music or rap among their favorites. It’s not uncommon for two or three of my friends to post links to the same science news or book reviews.

Facebook was created to allow classmates a way to network. It wasn’t meant to expand our social horizons. If anything, Facebook reinforces our perceptions, and misconceptions, of the world.

I deleted a MySpace profile earlier this year because only one of my friends was using the service. By cancelling my account, I was one more college-educated, middle-class loss to Facebook. It was the virtual equivalent of moving to the “better neighborhood” in the suburbs where most of my online friends had migrated.

MySpace was designed to let you search for new people. It’s been called a free online dating service because you can search by gender, relationship status, and location. Even when we are free to locate new friends, we look for people like ourselves.

I have made new contacts online, but not on social networking sites. I also wouldn’t call these individuals “friends.” They are peers, colleagues, and associates. The site LinkedIn calls them “connections” in my network, demonstrating the utilitarian nature of online communities.

Yahoo Groups ( have been a great way to meet people with hobbies and interests similar to my own. Membership in groups seldom overlap; the computer programmers, creative writers, and university instructors don’t tend to discuss life in general. Again, my worldview is not expanding, but I am able to gain knowledge from various experts.

Someone living in the Central Valley can network with and learn from people all over the globe. I’ve participated in discussions with some of the best writers alive. There is always the chance of forming a genuine friendship, too.

Still, our online interactions are utilitarian. We often seek to accomplish tasks or promote a cause. Social connections are secondary. Studies of online education reveal that students seldom make connections that persist beyond the virtual classroom. That is why universities such as Texas Tech ask their online graduate students to gather in Lubbock for two weeks each year.

The value of a prestigious university education goes well beyond the classroom. You attend an exclusive school for the social connections, the campus organizations, and campus events. That is why many smaller, private universities require students live on campus. There is no way for a virtual education to match the real experience.

Even computer hackers and online activists hold annual conventions. Maybe gatherings are an excuse to visit Las Vegas, but there is also a genuine desire to meet the people behind clever screen names. We wonder who “DarkNaught” and “VmpyrLvr” really are, not what they claim to be online.

Does this mean the Virtual Valley must remain isolated? Or, can we get beyond our physical location — and human nature?

Because the physical connections remain important, what we should do is nurture those connections using social networks and online communities.

Join professional sites, such as LinkedIn, and connect to both current and past coworkers.
Use Facebook to connect to classmates, coworkers, friends and family.
Locate communities, dedicated Web sites, where you will participate, not merely “lurk.”
Introduce your online friends to each other and to your “real” friends online.

Connecting the people we know outside the Valley to those who live here makes the Virtual Valley a richer place with more opportunities for everyone. If we want the Valley to be more, we have to make it more.

The Internet does not connect us simply because we are online. We have to make an effort to understand and embrace each other in real life. We have to do the same online.

One way to do this is to connect small online groups to larger online groups. For example, artists in Visalia can connect to other artists throughout Tulare County. Then, county groups can connect to Valley-wide groups. Online communities will then strengthen connections.

My hope is that as we expand our virtual communities, we find unexpected connections.

Hargittai, E. (2007). Whose space? Differences among users and non-users of social network sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication


Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Screenwriting Applications

Screenplay sample, showing dialogue and action descriptions. "O.S."=off screen. Written in Final Draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) A lot of students and aspiring writers ask me if you "must" use Final Draft or Screenwriter to write a screenplay. No. Absolutely not, unless you are working on a production. In which case, they own or your earn enough for Final Draft or Screenwriter and whatever budget/scheduling apps the production team uses.

I have to say, after trying WriterDuet I would use it in a heartbeat for a small production company and definitely for any non-profit, educational projects. No question. The only reason not to use it is that you must have the exclusive rights to a script... and I don't have those in my work.

WriterDuet is probably best free or low-cost option I have tested. It is very interesting. Blows away Celtx. The Pro version with off-line editing is cheaper than Final Draft or Screenwriter.

The Pro edition is a standalone, offline versio…