Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Real" community becoming virtual

A while back, I wrote of my experience with an online/virtual community becoming physical/real. Another community in which I participate started out "real" and added an online/virtual extension. The A2B3 group (stands for Ann Arbor Bi Bim Bap), started out as a small group, dedicated to sampling all the bi bim bap variants at restaurants in Ann Arbor. (I wasn't part of it then.)

Its physical incarnation is now a weekly lunch, meeting every Thursday at the Eastern Accents restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Usually between 20 and 30 people attend the lunch. Some are regulars and some show up only occasionally. We range over many professions, ages, and lifestyles, but most of us have some connection with technology or the internet. We do a lot of informal "networking" as we eat our bi bim bap or stir fry or pork buns. Each week, the convener and originator of the group, Ed Vielmetti, asks us to introduce ourselves and to answer a question. The question might be as seemingly trivial as "what do you always carry with you?", or as thought provoking as "what is an important question in your field?" In this way, we come to know each other better.

My photograph for week 13 of the 2008 weekly photography challenge tries to capture the aspects of food and community inherent in the lunch gathering. The focal point is a bowl of bi bim bap (I did not pose the chopsticks!) surrounded by other remnants and reminders of our repast. Behind the bowl we see Ed's hands, poised to take notes as we introduce ourselves around the table. The group is suggested by the unfocused hands and torsos in the background.

The "virtual" community is held together by a mailing list, hosted on Yahoo groups, with over 250 members. Some members of the group participate only through the list, as they no longer live in Ann Arbor. As with the lunch, most of the email conversation is quotidien, such as a recent exchange on blogging software. Sometimes we get into a more interesting conversation, such as one prompted by an email titled " - Sociopathy as a Corporate Culture?"

Why am I part of this community? For many reasons, some of which I only dimly understand. Most simply, I need to eat, and I'd rather have interesting conversation with interesting people while doing so. From a perspective of personal advantage, I might need to find a new job some day, and the more personal/professional connections that I make, the more quickly I'll find a good one. I can focus pretty narrowly on what is happening in my life and work, so talking with and listening to people who are doing very different things helps me to broaden my perspective and stay connected with the "rest of the world." I've learned of new trends, products, and communities, some of which I've become further involved with (and some not -- I just don't "get" Twitter, for example.)

The weekly "real space" meeting with members of the group keeps me connected with the larger "virtual space" group, many of whom I've only "met" in cyberspace. The online group gives us a larger community, and one in which I don't have to strain my ears to hear what is being said several seats down the table. It's a winning combination.


Anonymous said...

Good to see you back in cyberspace!
I don't get Twitter either. I had an account for about a month and it made no sense to me. Also, I got a bunch of "so and so is following you" links from people I didn't know and who all seemed to have "businesses" that they were pimping. I may just be too old to get it :)

a2oldie said...

Twitter is for Twits.