I wrote this for another blog somewhere else, and thought you all might like to know how I still remember you guys.
Back when I was in 10th Grade, I joined a website called everything2.com. e2 was a community of writers, where anybody could write whatever the hell they wanted on any topic they wanted. Some wrote to entertain others, some wrote to hone their skills at prose, and yet others wrote to teach. I was in this latter group; these were days before Wikipedia had established itself as the ultimate compendium of anybody-chiming-in-with-whatever-knowledge-they-had. My writeups tended to be of the dry, factual variety.
Yet through it all, e2 was a community. The chatterbox was crude and was only pseudo-realtime, yet there was a group of “noders” that were always in the chat and were well-respected. There were inside jokes, people who didn’t get along, and all of the wonderful and terrible things that a community brings. I tuned into Jeopardy! one night because a guy I knew from the Internet was going to be on. He won, and I congratulated him on the Internet the next day, along with many of his other fellow Everythingians. And through it all, people on e2 were respected as writers, as that was what had drawn us together in the first place.
I don’t visit e2 very often anymore. With the success of The Wiki, writeups like mine were no longer needed, and I didn’t have the ability with prose to switch over to the new dominant style of noding. The focus of the site had changed; and I found myself unable to take that new direction with my fellow noders. And yet, I miss it what it was sometimes. I look at the list of Content Editors and Admins, and the familiar faces I’m used to seeing on that list are gone. They’ve been replaced by people that I knew a long time ago, when they were just another respected community member like myself. Some I remember when they first joined the site and we would joke around in the chat. Yet I’ve been away from so long, I’m no longer in the community. If I tried to get back in, what is my role now? I’m…well, I was sort of important, once.
Community is an interesting thing. Many of my closest friends have been involved in Res. Life in some way or another, and it’s a topic that gets bandied about a lot in job interviews or training sessions. People all give their own definitions of what community is, but I find that I can sum up what makes a community in five words: a sense of shared purpose. My main community at Western Oregon University consists of people who had Res. Life as their purpose. Now, that purpose is shifting as many of us move off-campus or take up new roles in WOU. I used to joke that once people moved off-campus, I never saw them again. I know this isn’t true, but every now and then I worry. Hell, I’m modding a game of Mafia right now where moving off-campus is a metaphor for death. The game is fun, but the flavor is probably not healthy at some level.
Mafia is another interesting community, which overlaps pretty heavily with the Res. Life community. What started as an exciting new way to play a game that we enjoyed has turned into a community, complete with a party and a Facebook group, and a forum with areas for discussion about non-Mafia things. I love what we’ve done, because it strengthens the community that we had. Galen, Mark, and Megan have all moved away from WOU, but THAT DOESN’T MATTER. They’re in our online community. And as new people come in, I’ve noticed that it does feel more like a community than a group of people who get together to play a game on the Internet. Perhaps this was my goal all along; my quest to find some new mortar to replace the rapidly-dissolving glue that was “a purpose of Res. Life”. When Jess suggested making the forum administrators voted on by the members of the WOUfellas Club, I balked. I built the forums, and I don’t want the direction shifting without my say-so.
Again, I find myself wanting to make sure that when people ask me who I am in the future, I never have to say, “Well, I was important once.” It’s hard to say when you realize that you are now on the outside of somewhere that was once cozy and warm.
When you find a community that you feel at home in, you do what you can to keep it intact. And once you’re in, you never leave. Not with a clean break. Parts of every community that you have ever belonged to will cling to you, shaping you, and reminding you of all the good and bad times you’ve had. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, part of you will cling to the community.