Clippings: Online communities are still reality

On Friday evening, I sat glued to the action in the Senate chambers a hundred miles away in Albany, N.Y.
No, wait. I was actually in my living room at home, with “Arrested Development” playing on the TV, the shouts of kids running up and down the street wafting in the open window.
But if my surroundings were serene, the Twitter stream coming in over the phone in my hand was anything but.
From Albany, three New York Times reporters kept up a steady stream of on-the-ground news and narrative:
“In the Senate well, which has become oddly hushed in the moments before an expected vote on same-sex marriage.”
“Senator Rivera just now: ‘It’s all happening.’ And now, it is.”
The official New York legislative account, tweeting vote tallies.
Then there were the other voices: my cousin rooting for the bill’s passage from upstate New York, Vermonters waiting as legislators in the neighboring state deliberated.
As I refreshed the stream on my phone (our Internet was out), it occurred to me that I wasn’t exactly in my living room.
Physically, that’s where I was. Mentally, though, I was in a broad echoing space, plucking pieces from the flood of conversation and information and links to news articles floating past. Every so often I added my voice to the information coursing across Twitter — retweeting relevant information, adding my voice to the many correcting the Huffington Post when it mistakenly reported that the bill had passed, though it was only an amendment that had gone through. I was fully immersed in the world of Twitter, resurfacing only to report a development to my roommate.
It used to be that I was the first to decry paying more attention to one’s phone than one’s surroundings. Why remove yourself from the moment to read about something that’s happening elsewhere, or to report on what’s going on where you are? Why not just enjoy it?
Later, when I hit refresh for the 100th time and reported developments to the rest of the table at Two Brothers Tavern, those comments came back to me and I felt a twinge of guilt. “Maybe I shouldn’t be following this now,” I thought. “Maybe I should just check the news tomorrow.”
But as the flood of information resolved itself to exclamations of how close the vote had been and to the announcement that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was coming into the chamber to sign the bill into law, I couldn’t help it. I turned to Facebook and saw comment upon comment from my high school friends, most of whom still live in New York.
On Twitter, I saw photos of revelry at the Stonewall Inn in downtown Manhattan.
On FourSquare, New York City Mayor Bloomberg checked into “Marriage Equalitocalypse,” which is apparently at 26 Gay St. in Manhattan.
Then a friend sitting next to me posted the news to his Facebook wall.
I’m not saying I was justified in turning away from reality. I don’t feel great about existing primarily in cyberspace for the purpose of following the news. And I am fully aware that my one-year-ago self would judge my today self very, very harshly.
“Just get rid of your smartphone,” she’d probably tell me. “You have an addiction.”
But on Friday, I was connected not only to Vermont but to my home state of New York. Twitter wasn’t just a way to chat and share information — it was a way to connect with a community that doesn’t live anywhere near where I live, but that I am still connected to.
I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I’m not getting rid of my Twitter account, my Facebook profile or my smartphone anytime soon. And really, when it comes down to it, an online community is still a community. Yes, it’s different from the community we so value in Vermont — more nebulous, and much less place-based — but it’s still a community.
It’s more about creating a balance, and about remembering to exist in both communities.
After all, I can’t abandon my Twitter community — I have close to 200 followers, and that’s clearly the thing that matters most.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo tweets at @asuozzo.

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