The Rise of Hyperreal Communities

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Analysis, Communication Theory, culture, ICT, Popular Culture
Tags: , , ,

Online social networks, specifically Facebook, have provided people across the world free, accessible and interactive communication platform to present one’s self to others and get the attention of the many other people, and connect even disenterested parties into hyperreal communities. Trending now are calls for reunion, homecoming, assemblies and other gathering of sorts. Here is man’s conquer of the virtual world, extending his territories with technology and so extending his identity.

This phenomenon was made easier when Facebook introduced its group application. Although, prior to this `official’ pages were already in. Here, anyone can open an account, invite and add friends, and do the same stuffs an individual can do in his wall. The group application allows any user to link with other groups, add friends, chat, post multimedia and other documents. Any member of a group can add anyone, unless the moderator kicks someone out. The power here is shared by the moderator to every other members of the group.

Facebook, as a social network, has just become a platform for group interaction and socialization. This manifest in how people are using the tool to connect with a number of people as long they are in the group’s site. Facebook has stepped up from one-to-many networking site to a many-to-many networking site with the introduction of the group application. In this manner, control or moderation is less attended and power is redistributed and shared by all members. Such is what Jurgen Habermas theoritically  describes as an ideal speech situation in the public sphere.

The said technology for group interactions is not new. The earlier versions of the chatroom like that of the MIRC served the same function. But because of the vulnerability of the platform to be intruded by viruses, it slowly got out of the picture. Well, Facebook has to take responsibility for that as well. The hyperreal communities have become more evidently active nowadays. The term hyperreal, according to Baudrillard is the meshing of the virtual and real, so intricately intertwined that the boundaries become gray and the distinction between the real and virtual becomes more ambiguous over time.

Because of the convinience, benefits and advantages of using technology in reaching people and getting them to the discourse process, openly and freely, people have taken the liberty to ‘join’ and be a part of the hyperreal communities. Here, they get updates and they get to interact with a lot of people, even those they do not know or have never had physical contact with. To them, they are in social interaction, just the same as that of the real experience of social interaction. Likewise, they bring their experiences in the virtual world to the real world, or vice versa.

Hyperreal communities are social groups of individuals connected through an information communication network, bound by a common interest, purpose, situation, experiences or identities. The motivation of the members to be in the network are likely to be shared to keep the network active. Performative communication through display and attention keep the line of social exchange alive. Messages posted on the group’s wall or chatroom have to appeal to the various interests and sensibilities of the members or else, communication becomes static.

Because rules and roles are undefined in these communities, unless the moderator establishes so with the agreement of other members, some unexpressed expectations can lead to conflict. This entropy can start from two individuals and then other members will be affected emotionally and psychology. Then, there will be regroupings in support of the parties in conflict. There will also be arbiters and peacemakers. In worst situations, members who do not conform to the ambiguous ‘norm’ will be unfriended or removed from the group. But, due to the vulnerability of technology, the deviant who was casted out can join the group with another identity to shatter the group dynamics again.

The connection established in the virtual community has strong links to the interest of the physical social world. Connection, that is. But the purpose will vary. For socieities that have high collective values, connection in either of the two worlds are esential to one’s esteem and the group’s esteem. The value of unity, cammaraderie, or fraternalization are significant to be projected in the members of the group. When these are violated, group members may lose interest to sustain membership. Distancing and withdrawal are still easy options. Being silent is manifestation of such, when participation in the exchange is construed as engagement and interest.

In the meshing of worlds in the hyperreal communities, the identities of individual members are transcended to cut across the two world. Hence, actions or one’s communicative behavior in the virtual world represents the identities of individuals in the phyisical world. In their exposure to the virtual world, their identities are transformed as well and they bring such back in the physical world. Assuming one opens a group for a clan, based on one’s surname, members who joined the group will feel proud to notice how the imagined and reconstructed ‘clan’ has increased.

New patterns of relationships are developed. In the Philippines, when the natives were given surnames, it was more likely that surnames will be repetitive. So, one can be surprised that there is another family or clan with the same surname from other islands. But with this mere identification, the family is reconstructed. Stories will be told, people will speak in different languages, and there will be no physical semblance at all shared by all those people. This reconstruction of the ‘clan’ goes beyond paternal or ethnic lineage. Even if stories told dont’ match with stories lived, the fantasy in the virtual world can keep the members together, in a while.

It is interesting to inquire on why people open groups and seek connection. Have the people been so tired in their physical world? Have they been so disconnected that they are pushed and pulled to utilized online technology to create virtual connections? How much of these virtual connections live to their purpose of building communities? How long will they be there and how are members affected by these hyperreal communities?

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