2.5 How community relates to "work"
Connections between the notion of community and the notion of work are not
always clear-cut. The literature on situated learning and communities of practice
provides something of a bridge. If one accepts that part of work involves participation
in a community of practice and one accepts a rather broad definition of work,
then it seems possible to think of the role of Everything2 and Perlmonks in
supporting work by establishing a learning community.
Successful network communities provide both technical mechanisms and social
practices that allow for learning (Mynatt etc, 1997). Learning is recognized
as a social phenomenon constituted in the experienced, live-in world, through
legitimate peripheral participation in ongoing social practice; the process
of changing knowledgeable skill is subsumed in processes of changing identity
in and through membership in a community of practitioners; and mastery is an
organizational, relational characteristic of communities of practice (Lave 1998)
. Although the community participation is declining in recent decades of years
(Putnam, 1996), the widespread Internet connection seems to connect the society
in a new way, which people can participate in broader virtual communities of
interests and overcome the time and geographical constraints. The virtual communities
such as BBS, mailing groups and MUDs offer people opportunities to learn new
skills, gain experience and obtain insights from it. Everything2 and Perlmonks
are designed for supporting such a role. With both technical and social sustainability,
both sites offer newcomers opportunities to learn and practice. In Perlmonks,
users from all over the world post questions and discuss problems while they
are learning the Perl programming language. In the words of the users, gathered
from survey responses:
"I learned perl a lot faster than I would have on my own. And I've met other
people with interests similar to mine who don't get bored when I want to talk
"My skill in Perl is greatly increased by having my material reviewed. I
also have a sense of community by helping others."
"I cited submissions to Perlmonks during a recent job interview which helped
me get the job."
"By replying to things I feel I am learning more about Perl. Sometimes
I read questions and challenge myself to find the answer."
Everything2 offers writers an ideal place to organize ideas and thoughts, where
they can benefit from quick feedback, comments or critiques. Users read to learn
more information and insights about life. They make friends and learn things
beyond the scope of their work and families. In the words of the users, taken
from their survey responses:
"E2 has awakened a writing gift. I used to write a lot and submit to print
media, but only got rejection. Now I can submit and get immediate feedback.
This has strengthened my gift, and I now find myself writing publishable material
(which is not put on E2) a great deal more."
"I've certainly improved my writing ability. And I've met some new people.
I have learnt some information of varying practical value, and also an immeasurable
amount about how an online "community" can function successfully. The Everything
technology is a powerful enabler. I look forward to seeing new uses that canny
people put it to."
"A place where I can learn or research information. More importantly, a
place where I can contribute to such a project." "I'm constantly learning things,
and I'm able to connect with so many other people in the deeply personal way
that the pseudo-anonymity of text provides. A sense of companionship and of
community. Fun. A pleasing sense of mutual ownership since I became an editor
- maybe no one knows what e2 is for, but it's ours, damnit."
In addition to learning, there is some evidence that community can help foster
work processes. As mentioned above, a crucial aspect of communities is the emotional
involvement of community members. Moore et al found that group affiliation and
emotional involvement enabled people to more smoothly coordinate distance communication
over a network.
Barker et al argue persuasively that it is important to study group work in
a relational context. They go on to claim that often minorities and women are
not represented in typical research on small groups. Some of the propositions
of this article would indicate that work not only is affected by emotional content,
but is largely influenced by affect.
Return to Section one