Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Who is Raymond A. Foss?

Who is Raymond A. Foss — or, What is “community”?

Whenever I look at the social blogrolling site MyBlogLog, I see the footprint of Raymond A. Foss, who seems to be a member of the “community” of every single Christian blog registered with MyBlogLog.

If you look at his profile page you can see that he is in fact a member of 2487 “communities” on MyBlogLog, and that he has 5629 family, friends and contacts.

But when I visit the blogs whose “communities” I am a member of, I hardly ever see Raymond A. Foss among the “Recent Visitors” to those blogs.

A few months ago my wife was watching a TV programme, I think on the BBC, called The human footprint, which was about the effect that the average human being has on their environment over their lifetime, and one of the things they noted was that the average inhabitant of the British Isles knew about 1750 people in the course of their life.

I decided to try to make a list of all the people I’ve known — family, friends, colleagues at work, casual acquaintances. I include people I’ve met and that I remember having had conversations with, even if I’ve only met them once or twice. I’ve got nearly 700 listed for far. I don’t do this all the time, just in odd moments while waiting the kettle to boil for coffee and times like that.

The idea of someone having 5269 friends and contacts just boggles the mind. And especially since Ramond A. Foss never seems to interact most of the people that he has listed in this way, or with the blog “communities” he has joined.

Raymond A. Foss is not the only one, however.

Another one who joined a lot of Christian blog communities and then rarely or never visited them is Called2Bless.

I mention these two because I keep seeing their pictures (avatars) every day, in the “communities” they have joined, but rarely if ever interact with.

And things like this make me wonder what is community, and what do people think it means?

It’s not confined to MyBlogLog, but can be found on every social networking site. Several times a week I get e-mails from people who claim to have seen my profile, and say that they want to be my friend, and ask me to send a photo. I usually just delete them unread. If they really wanted to be my friend, they would read my blogs, and write intelligent comments on some of the articles, and it would become clear that we have at least some common interests, something to talk about.

Over the last 20 years I have had several “friends” I have made through electronic networking, through BBSs, and later Usenet and the Internet. Some of them I have never met in the flesh, but have kept in touch with them for 10, 15 or 20 years. In some cases I have met them, and we’ve continued our electronic conversations face to face. In that way there is a community, a network of friends and relationships, because there is interaction between people. And its those kinds of relationships that social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are designed to foster and facilitate. But some people seem to want to call “friends” people they have never met and show no desire to communicate with.

Another example of this false “community” and false “friendship”, where people claim friendship with not communication or interaction comes from another social blogrolling site, BlogCatalog.

BlogCatalog has an equivalent of MyBlogLog’s “communities”, which it calls “favorites” (and used to call “neighbourhoods”). These are blogs that you want to mark for return visits.

But it also has “groups”, for people who share common interests.

I recently started a group there for Orthodox Christian bloggers, because I looked for such a group and didn’t find one, and thought it might make it easier to maintain contact with people who share a common interest. Soon after it started shamirdevnath joined. Shamir Devnath does not appear to be an Orthodox Christian, and his blog did not appear to have any recent posts on Orthodox Christianity, so I rejected his membership. Three days later he joined again, so I banned him. Shamir Devnath belongs to 1217 groups on BlogCatalog. I’ve no idea what the average size of a group on BlogCatalog is, but the Orthodox Christian bloggers group has 10 members so far, though it is fairly new, so more may join. But if all those 1217 groups had an average of 10 people, that’s 12170 people. How can someone like Shamirdevnath relate to so many people? As far as I can see, it’s impossible. So why is he (and again, there are many others like him) so keen to join groups in which he clearly has no interest, and has no desire to interact with?

Also on BlogCatalog I get e-mails several times a week telling me that so-and-so has added me as their friend. Half of them are people I have never heard of, never interacted with. According to the BlogCatalog widget, they’ve never even looked at any of my blogs, much less commented on the posts. Why on earth do they want to add me as their “friend”, when I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, and apparently don’t even want to know me. If they wanted to know me, at least they could read my blog.

Back to MyBlogLog: soon after I joined, they introduced a new feature — that members could send a message to all the members of the community of their blog.

There was an outcry from some people, who complained that they would be inundated by “spam”. The loudest squeals came from someone who had joined over 9000 “communities”, but if they didn’t want communication from them, why did they join them in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong — I like social blogrolling sites like BlogCatalog and MyBlogLog. I wish all the blogs I am interested in would join them, because it would make it easier to keep track of ones that deal with topics I am interested in. But when people join communities they have no interest in, it dilutes the usefulness. If everyone joins everything, there is no point in anyone joining anything.

What kind of world do we live in, where people want to join groups that they have no interest in, where they want to call people their “friends”, but have no communication with them?

The kinds of things I have mentioned above indicate to me that we live in a seriously dysfunctional society, and this dysfuction is not confined to one country or one group of countries, or one culture, but seems spread throughout the world.

Nearly twenty years ago someone wrote “The Rushdie affair showed how dangerous is the present stage of global development – a stage of communication without community” (Anderson, Walter Truett. 1990. Reality isn’t what it used to be. San Francisco: Harper. p. 241).

That was a book about postmodernity.

But now we seem to have reached post-postmodernity, where we have reached an even more dangerous stage — a stage of community without communication.

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