Technological development has signified a gradual transformation of social institutions and overall dynamics. Today, communities have fundamentally changed; physical communities in principle appear to be disappearing as virtual communities begin to form in cyberspace (which the Internet has granted universal access to). In truth, physical communities have been somewhat displaced by the significant growth of virtual communities; today’s virtual community appears to be more consistent with today’s highly globalized and diversified multicultural community. John Perry Barlow, for instance, argues that physical community is deteriorating; he goes as far as to hint that physical community could disappear altogether as the world continues to decant in favor of cyberspace. Malcolm Gladwell dissents with Barlow. Regardless of the changing dynamic in today’s world, the physical community has not deteriorated like Barlow proposes; physical communities have simply shifted from the household into the office.
Cyberspace is said to deteriorate the world’s physical community as it reduces the diversity that characterizes it and at the same disconnects people from the physical reality that surrounds them. This is a belief shared by John Perry Barlow, who in an article entitled “Is there a there in cyberspace?” contends that “there is not much diversity in cyberspace, which is populated, as near as I can tell, by white males under 50 with plenty of computer terminal time… and an excruciating face-to-face shyness, especially with the opposite sex”. According to Barlow, diversity is fundamental for the establishment of a healthy community. Cyberspace makes it impossible to harness diversity, simply because the Internet connectivity and technological savvy (as it relates to computers and computer software) are not universal. The vast majority of the African population, for example, is excluded from the virtual community that gradually consolidates in cyberspace; the same happens for those who are illiterate as they know not how to use computers, let alone go online. Apart from the virtual community’s limitations in terms of diversity, Barlow mentions other elements that have become essential to physical communities, including the following: tone of voice; sex; body language; clothing; sunlight; music; smells; pets; buildings. In short, virtual community has signified the deterioration of the physical community as it has stripped its core constituting elements.
Another proposition is that physical communities have not deteriorated, but simply shifted from the household to the office environment. Office employees, as opposed to household members, are not the main constituting element of today’s physical communities. Such is the claim of Malcolm Gladwell, who in the article entitled “Designs for working” offers an alternative explanation to the apparent deterioration of the physical community. Basically, he proposes that the physical community has not been deteriorated by the virtual community; he simply contends that the dynamics of physical communities have fundamentally changed and they now develop at office environments. For example, Gladwell mentions that Americans seldom bowl because at the workplace (between 9 am and 5 pm) they get all of the social support that they need (support that in the past they obtained from their community at home). Furthermore, upon considering that office environments are characterized by constant physical interactions (and by a highly diversified set of individuals) it logically follows that Gladwell fundamentally dissents with Barlow’s claims of a deteriorating physical community. Physical communities, in this light, are not deteriorating, but simply evolving to better reflect society’s needs and wants (as they relate to work and productivity).
John Perry Barlow and Malcolm Gladwell, as it turns out, are individuals with different perceptions regarding the way in which physical communities have changed over time. The former is convinced that physical communities are deteriorating because of the establishment and continuous growth of virtual communities. The latter believes that physical communities have not deteriorated, but simply evolved (and shifted) into a community that focuses primarily on office environments.