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In: Columns > Pro Dot Con

By Peter Fielding

Published on August 14, 2001

So here I am, sitting on my column deadline, trying desperately to sort out my feelings about the status of "online community." Those who read the column regularly remember the full-on rant state I was in while discussing a recent showing of design community.

On the other hand, those who don't read this column regularly will be damned to a sulphurous eternity, bereft of any wit or personal diatribe.

I'm sorry, I don't make the rules.

Nonetheless, there has been a question surrounding myself from the time of that ill-tempered column, until now.

Has anything changed?

May was quite a while ago now, and the lingering thoughts should fade, shouldn't they?

I've wondered about my own feeling of connection (and conversely, disassociation) with the people I work with, since I wrote that article. This month's community theme really made me sit back and observe, though. As always, the surface looks like it could be ugly. Arguments boiling on high, and the loudest mouths echoing down the halls. However, scratch the surface, and the skin peels back to something quite else underneath.

July sees the departure/hiatus of a few people that I, personally, had come to respect, and like, from some of their major 'net contributions. Those reading that don't know about the ceasing of Brent Gustaffson's Assembler, followed closely by Josh's decision to put Dreamless on hiatus and our favourite baldies putting Kalliber 10,000 to bed for the summer, need to check out the motion of the moments. These acts falling so close in chronological proximity aren't by fluke, they aren't a sign of a weak structure, but they are a signal for some rest.

Now, I'm not going to sell you the foolish "Internet design crash" propaganda of the truly paranoid, nor am I going to bitch about being "owed". No... people get tired. It happens to all of us. When you pour your soul into something, day after day, there comes a time when you feel empty.

Replenishment

It sounds simple, but it takes that single commodity that none of us own: Time. Dreamless needs time to simmer under summer weather. Let Josh find some space to put some new ink, and work on other things without having to feel burdened. K10K needs a rest. How long have Toke and Mike been toiling like Prussian children in sweatshops sewing Nikes? Brent needs a break. Will he return? Who knows, but you can ask at some point, or hope at others. Haven't we all been burned out? Sitting around, wondering why you got up when you read the mountain of mail that needs answers. Staring at a screen full of code trying to sort out the latest bugs and crossbrowser/platform issues. You wanted to quit. I've wanted to quit (and have at regular intervals...it feeds the schizo tendencies), so what can be done when you see part of the family you adopted yourself into needing some time?

Don't ask why they'd "do this to us" - try asking what we do for them. Have you supplied what you can to the community that you cling to. Have you stopped to say thank you for the inspiration, daily entertainment, and all around improvement of your web experience? When was the last time you fired off mail, just to say "Wow...I love what you do, and I'm glad you do it"? Some of us do, and some don't, but no matter how much mail came in, or didn't, all the people listed kept pouring all they had into this work that they love...that we all love.

What can be given?

Support

Every day we get up in thousands of different cities across the globe...and we work toward a common goal. Everyone reading this has probably added to the 'Net in many ways. Building, developing, designing, growing this sickling child into a gawky adolescent, braces, headgear, halitosis and all. We make...that's what we do. This medium, though has spawned something that none have before...the lines to connect. I live half a globe-spin away from Cal, my partner in Pixelflo. It would take me more than half a day just to fly there, at supersonic speeds. Chances are that I won't get to sit and have bad warm beer in a dodgy pub with him for some time yet...but I am connected to him. I call those fiberoptic light pulses, my friend. Here we sit, worlds away, and work together to make...and love it, even through the hate filled moments, and frustrating psychoses. Without this plastic box, Cal would be photons whizzing by my phone lines that I would never be able to understand, or come to care about.

Without this plastic box, none of you would be reading me...and I wouldn't be able to ramble, aimlessly wasting your time...

Uh...ignore that part.

It's not easy connecting with people. We all search to do that every moment of our lives. Attach to the understanding, feel that symbiosis that somehow congeals, and separates all that's around. Even less simple, though, is the connection of a group of people. We excel as individuals, and pride ourselves on our own differences, so meshing that into an infrastructure of support and understanding is much like throwing pirhana in a tank with your battleaxe aunt Phyllis and seeing who makes it out alive. Not often a pretty sight, no matter the outcome. However, as improbable as it all seems, it does happen. This network of people looking to achieve that goal, reach that new height, find each other, and grow. An idea spawns inspiration in like-minded individuals and becomes a concept that garners interest, and spreads. What results is contagion for the communal mind. Jung would be proud. Sometimes they're cliques, with "members only" jackets, but more often they become extended families, caring and supporting.

Like any family reunion, though, each community has a collection of disreputable uncles, and drunken cousins peeing in the punchbowl. It's sad when the lion's share of press gets spent on the loudest mouths, and the light shifts away from the brilliance that was achieved before the punch was soiled. It's sad...but it's life. So communities carry on, ever lurching forward on the staggering path toward....support.

When Derek created The Fray, he didn't know what twists and turns it would take along the way. The impetus isn't the ending, and the organic nature of its childhood has been nothing short of marvelous to watch. This year Fray Day will infect multiple cities around the globe, and attract other people looking to share.. be... support. Along the way there will always be stumbling blocks, but in the end, isn't the beauty of the commune more memorable than the ugliness of a moment?

The Fray will continue on (even though my last story was turned down for... Oh.. Hi Derek... um, ignore this), because it's a worthy community, built on strong bones and helping hands. Look around you, there have always been hands to hold you up when you slip. Especially here, you will find someone willing to give of themselves to further all of this. Someone willing to lift you up a bit more, so that you can turn and lift the next person up.

Metafilter was Matt's personal idea of a communal Frankenstein's monster to shape and mold into a web of shared thoughts and minds. The sheer magnitude of Metafilter's behemoth-like growth, and the reflected exposure of it to the world has been nothing short of stunning. What feeds it, though? Tear away the servers, the T1 lines, the routers in between, and there's us...standing on the lines, waving our opinions like flags at the UN. What makes Metafilter? You do. I do. Most certainly, Matt does, with all these others to babysit and teach the child well.

What amazing things these online places and ideas can become! What fascinating displays of communication and connection can be seen in them at any point in time! What succinct irony it is that this plastic space of networked computers and communication lines gives birth to networked communicating humans every day. What's given? Support. What's asked? Take a guess.

So to avoid the heckling over the fence that I seem to sit on, I can say this: There are thriving connections all over this world. Collections of brilliance, art, creation, magnificence, that make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Will you help, or hinder? And if so, are you giving what you can...and taking what you need?

Stretch your shoulders, while others are stretching theirs. Allow for the moments of calm reflection that all people need. Rejoice when there is happiness somewhere in the webbing. If we can keep these things in mind, perhaps we can watch this evolution through natural direction. If we fail to allow the breaths to escape now and then, we'll watch this evolution dwindle by natural selection. So, "community begins with me". I'd normally choke on such a cliche...but now and then I remember why things become cliches in the first place.

Every hope and help is given to all of those needing to breathe right now, and two more hands to hold on.

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Peter Fielding makes the pretty things for Pixelflo.com, while he hunkers down in the frozen tundra of western Canada. Receiving his email by data dog sled, he is most often found lighting miniature garbage can fires for the homeless baby seals that power his cpu, and lobbying for the inclusion of Full Contact Page Design in the next Winter Olympics.

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