Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Join the Club and a Fourth Place

I heard an interview today with MacArthur and Putlizer Prize winner Tina Rosenberg on her book Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World. Rosenberg explores the positive role peer-pressure plays in bringing about social change. In the interview she talks about old ways of teaching, take for example the importance of an individual better health practices, often fail, but social pressure from peers can effectively foster change.

Hearing this interview fit perfectly with something else I've been thinking about - the Internet as a Fourth Place for community building, aligning with the three other anchor places for social interaction: home, work and community spaces, such as bars, coffeehouses, community parks and the like.

The Internet as "fourth place" allows a person to form a community of ideas that may not be readily available in one's geographic community. In a sense, the Internet created social interaction in the Middle East in recent months to bring together young activists that effectively changed governments. This is radical stuff. However, more intimately, there are social communities and societies gathering on the Internet that provide people a sense of community they might otherwise lack.

I'm inspired by bloggers and individuals who live passionately and who have big ideas. Over time these people create a community of readers who interact together on the Internet and share common interests.

These are people such as Chris Guillebeau and his motivation to master the art of non-conformity. Or Joel Runyon, who encourages people to do impossible things. And, Steve Kamb, whose Nerd Fitness site shares straight-forward tips on fitness, diet and life.

More recently I've been particularly inspired and energized by Hudson Taylor, a former All-American wrestler at the University of Maryland and wrestling coach at Columbia University. Hudson created Athlete Ally, an organization that inspires athletes to actively confront homophobia in their sports. He's put a video "playbook" on YouTube to give athletes tips on how to be allies in preserving the dignity of LGBT/questioning youth. Joining the community that supports the ideas and mission of Athlete Ally is making me aware of a social issue that I cared about but didn't know how to address. Now I have a resource to share with the students at my school. This came about through interacting with an Internet community. I feel part of the Athlete Ally community, and I'm inspired to action, even though I've not met a single member.

There are fourth place Internet communities organized around endless themes. The impact, however, is the same: people are able to find a "place" to connect with ideas that inspire them to accomplish things that they might not otherwise do on their own.

Perhaps my recognition of the Internet as a "fourth place" isn't original. Regardless, I like feeling that I'm part of communities that inspire me. This really is "social networking" even if I never meet the people who inspire me and help change my life for the better.

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