Communities and Operating Systems

Among the Oxford English Dictionary definitions of “Community” is the following:

A body of people organized into a political, municipal, or social unity: such as members of a civil community, who have certain circumstances of nativity, religion, or pursuit, common to them, but not shared by those among whom they live.

“Community” and “society” are opposing concepts. We “join” communities. We are a “part” of a society. In a ‘community’ we bring our personal strengths to bear for the common good. In a ‘society’ individuality must be protected against the depersonalizing, anomizing process by which people are grouped together and ‘Wal-marted’ into indistinguishable simulacrums.

The postmodern reaction to the mass-produced, least common denominator impersonalization has been a proliferation of communities. As products have become such a central part of our lives we have seen the growth of “Brand Communities” such as the ones that have developed around Harley Davidson motorcycles and Macintosh Computers. As the Internet becomes the ultimate facilitator of interpersonal communication, “virtual communities”, whether product-related or not, have multiplied at an astonishing rate.

‘Communities’ share three basic characteristics:

  • Consciousness of kind
  • Shared rituals and traditions
  • A felt sense of obligation to the community and its members
  • I will be exploring the components and characteristics of “community” in greater detail but my primary interest is in how these communities are created and why some are more successful than others. In particular, I am interested in the phenomena of ‘brand’ and ‘virtual’ communities.

    A nexus between these types of community has formed around issue of computer operating systems. It is perhaps ironic that such a divergence of opinions would coalesce around an, admittedly important, and yet, seemingly innocuous, utility function. At one extreme an operating system is merely an interface between the computer user’s needs and the computer’s potential functionality; much like a television remote control. At the other extreme, as the computer’s functionality becomes more inexorably tied to our primary activities, the foibles of a particular operating system reflects on our social identity. Much like our culture’s obsession with automobiles; what you drive is just as important as where you drive.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *