sensible nitpicking


generally i try to avoid nitpicking in writing and save it for the poor people who spend time with me in person, but there's been something getting to me recently and i'd like to clear the air.

i've been a bit lax about terminology.

any written work is only as good as the words chosen. and i haven't been choosing or clarifying my words well.

to be more specific, let's talk about communities and groups.

we often use these terms interchangeably (and i'm as guilty as the next person here), but the truth is they really aren't the same thing. i'm sure one or some or all of the anthropological greats have discussed this, but for the sake of this post, let's keep the fiddly bits down to a minimum and try to keep this discussion dictionary-light.

a community is all at once "a group of people living together in one place; a particular area or place considered together with its inhabitants; people ... considered collectively, esp. in the context of social values and responsibilities; society; a group of people having a religion, race, profession, or other particular characteristics in common; ...sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals; [or] a similarity of identity." whereas a group is "a number of people or things that are located close together or are considered or classed together."

so, from the start we have a difference: "community" implies people (or, at least, living organisms). "group" does not. and while both rely on proximity and similarities for classification, being part of a community implies self-identification (as part of the community) while being part of a group doesn't necessarily require the same self-reflection. communities are formed based off of acknowledged collective similarities, groups appeared to be or can be formed (in definition) on more arbitrary bases and without personal assent.

a community implies participation; a group does not. a community also seems to imply a need for mutual acknowledgement of members, but that's not a defining need within a group. two rocks are not necessarily going to realize they're both igneous, but even if they do, that doesn't mean they'll have anything to talk about after the lava has hardened. however, we are still going to classify both of those rocks as igneous and keep them in the same box on the table. that doesn't make them a community of rocks. so there is an ongoing process of establishment and assessment in communities. we welcome new members and join multiple communities, creating an over-lapping ripple-effect. 

from all of this, it appears a group can be part of a community, but a community cannot be part of a group. it's sort of like how you can live in the same zip code as your neighbors, but unless you actively engage, connect, and/or identify with them, you're only part of a group of people who live in the same area. as soon as you have a block party or something — and people show up — you're a community.

another example would be facebook. facebook is a large community made up of sub-communities in the sense that users are linked to their friends and families (to create virutal representation of their own real world communities). however, facebook also has group pages. when you join a group, you aren't automatically enlarging your own virtual community. you are simply classifying yourself with all the other people out there who like this tv show or that musician. just because you and 2,000 other people like illegible ink or plugging oil spills with bp execs does not mean your social group has expanded. it just means you've grouped yourself with those other people. if you (and others) actively interact and connect with that group, then it has the potential to become a community.

make sense? i hope so. otherwise the coffee clearly isn't working.


in other news, i've stopped eating potatoes for a couple months (until my birthday) and am way behind in my blogging. but i sent out the query letter for my book today to the agent, so that's one thing off my to-do list.