Digital Life Has Deprived Us of Positive Community Building

When I’m old, retired, and telling my grandkids what it was like to live in the early part of the 21st century, I’m going to describe it like this: “We all willingly deprived ourselves of healthy social interaction when we agreed to be digital citizens.”

Now, I hope that by the time I get to say that it actually has some Wow! factor to it, in the same way that kids might now be shocked we used to be able to smoke on airplanes. In other words, I hope that we will have figured out how to create healthy digital communities at scale by the time I’m old and decrepit. Because we can’t continue to live like this.

This is not the first time I’ve felt compelled to rant about the importance of Digital Communities. I’ve talked in great detail about the loss of Third Spaces (the home, the office, and then your Third Space).

A Third Space is where we get to have civilized and fulfilling interactions around our passions. No matter what’s happening at work or at home, you can always turn to Church, the bar, the coffee shop, the barbershop, the library, the gym, etc. to rejuvenate yourself. And I keep reiterating this because it’s so important to the health of digital life that we find ways for Digital Third Spaces to exist. 

The problem is that we’ve strayed from the “8-18-1800 Rule” (not a real rule, just a mishmash of studies on social circles):

  • 8 people (or fewer) if you want to have a good conversation
  • 18 people if you want to have good ideas
  • 1,800 people if you want to rally the troops for a cause

The problem with our Digital Communities is that the conversations that should be an 8 or 18 person meeting are actually in fact 1,800 person meetings… or 18 million. Everything that appears on your timeline is a rallying of the troops.

“He said this and we need to make him pay for saying that.”
“She shared this and I think it’s insensitive, let’s cancel her.”

The ideas and conversations we used to share in our Third Spaces now take place on Twitter and Facebook – places that aren’t designed for intimate and honest conversations.

Negativity breeds negativity.

The reality is that it’s just not healthy for us to treat social media (the way it stands now) as a Third Space. We shouldn’t turn to Twitter every time we need to air out our frustrations or “discuss” extremely delicate topics.

Seth Godin calls it “The Perfect Argument” – an issue designed in such a way that we’ll never reach an answer.

The purpose of the perfect argument is to make sure we don’t actually get anything done. The perfect argument is perfect because it never ends, because it is a trap for our focus and our energy.

Seth Godin

That’s what you’re going to find on the news and shared on social media. Those places plume with uncivil debate.

We desperately need more Digital Third Spaces if we want digital life to succeed.

Digital Third Spaces

We’re still in this experimental phase of figuring out what it means to be a social being in the digital world. And it will be going on this way for some time.

Fortunately, there are some interesting trends and technology that are giving me hope.

Disciple and Mighty Networks are both creating technology for digital communities to exist off of the major social networks. In this article, I’ve listed off dozens of commendable digital communities showing us the unwritten rules of making a great Digital Third Space.

Even Facebook saw this issue coming and has thus been heavily promoting Groups – their answer to Digital Third Spaces. One major trend I’m seeing there is the genesis of Third Spaces formed around Podcasts such as WTF with Marc Maron, Crime Junkie, and more.

Personally, I don’t think that social media networks are the place for these digital communities to thrive.

How many bar fights happened at the local bowling alley you or your parents spent time growing up around? Probably only a handful.

How many bar fights happen on Twitter threads daily? More than you can even count.

So what’s my message to you?

Ditch the infuriating Twitter thread. Go and seek a digital community around something that you enjoy. And if that digital community doesn’t exist (or it exists but amidst a sea of antisocial content), then go and create the digital community you want.

About four years ago, around the time the time that Kanye West was changing the course of hip-hop meets fashion with his Yeezy Season 3 show (and prior to him having a mental breakdown in front of 327 million Americans) I started a text message group called ‘YE’.

YE was formed with about a dozen people. I gave them no forewarning. And at most, each person knew 2 other people in the group. It was a mishmash of Kanye West fans that I had met over the course of my lifetime in all corners of the country.

On paper, this group should’ve been a disaster. But it wasn’t. To the contrary, the conversations were civil and enlightening. They were a real joy in fact.

Bill Frezza, in this article, advises everyone to go and create your very own Intellectual Oasis. A place where you aren’t subject to the latest infuriating news, where you’re free to make conversational mistakes, and where you can actually push your own intellectuality forward.

The technology exists. We don’t need some radical new innovative community-building technology. All we need are our minds and email. Or, our minds and group text messages.

Something spectacular happens when you form a small community around a topic you’re passionate about. You actually have constructive, healthy interactions that uplift our minds and spirits.

P.S. I hope that Inevitable/Human has been a constructive Digital Third Space for you. If you have feedback, please feel free to email me back 🙂