Getting On-Line Edit
The Foundation On-Line Community Program would be a continual program throughout the Foundation phase and well into the rest of TMP. It’s objective is to exploit the technologies of digital communications and the Internet as a medium for cultural development and practical collaboration through the cultivation of various platforms of group communication, collaboration, and socialization. Today this aspect of Foundation is its most important. It exists primarily as a community of people using existing Internet discussion forum systems and web sites as a means to discuss, cultivate, and disseminate information about TMP.
Marshal Savage considered the development of virtual communities the critical start of Foundation, seeing the emerging Internet as an inexpensive but powerful means of collectivizing the collaborative effort of people all over the world. But experience has proven there are practical limits to the potential of virtual communities as they exist today owing to the inefficiencies of on-line communications mediums, the limits on the robustness of collaborative activity on-line, the unresolved issue of trust-building in a virtual world, and the differences in demographics, activity patterns, and communications venues of typical Internet users compared to that of the community of professionals and investors. Bottom-line, virtual communities today are not all they’re cracked-up to be. There remain critical obstacles to translating virtual community participation into effective real-world activity because digital communications cannot compensate for physical distance when it comes to physical activity, and are not a substitute for talent, skill, and wealth, the demographics of the majority of virtual community participants today differing greatly from the majority of effective professionals who –if they are computer literate in the first place– don’t often recreate on-line because of the work character of their computer use and prefer more exclusive ‘noise reduced’ communications venues out of reach of the general public. And perhaps the greatest problem with virtual communities of all is their lack of effective mechanisms for social trust-building, encouraging the Internet’s reputation as something of a jungle full of predators.
Much of this situation relates to the fact that the general design of contemporary personal computers and Internet communications platforms remain quite primitive, thus their full potential as entertainment, communications, and collaboration venues remains unrealized. Computers remain, as a consequence of their physical design, ‘special’ artifacts in our culture requiring special space, furniture, physical postures, and elaborate skills to use, still unable to integrate into the casual daily activity of all but a rather peculiar few. Internet communications platforms remain over-specialized in function, over-complicated in use, and hermetic in architecture, the venues of group chat dominated by an increasingly insular and disaffected youth culture and a similarly insular community of hard-core computing hobbyists who often revel in the exclusivity the cumbersome nature of their tools affords.
Overcoming these problems will require a persistent community effort to improve the existing communications tools, develop new superior systems and platforms, new mediums of collaborations and interaction, and encourage through careful implementation and social/cultural gravitas more –and more progressive– use of existing communications and collaboration venues in spite of their limitations. This will be an ongoing effort that may ultimately involve the development of sophisticated new hardware and software –in particular virtual habitat platforms that may ultimately evolve into a new extension of the civilization in general. But the issue of trust-building in the virtual environment is likely to remain a tough and complex problem well into the future, seeing as much of the entertainment value of on-line socialization is rooted in the psychological safety of anonymity, which by its very nature is both personally liberating yet works against trust, honesty, and fair collaboration. Solutions to this sort of problem are likely to be much more cultural than technological.
At present, the LUF and nascent Foundation are limited largely to the off-the-shelf communications, socialization, and collaboration tools currently available but these have yet to be utilized to their full potential, offering much room for progress.