By Nyaka Mwanza
Since the advent of the internet, virtual communities have played an evolving role in how we live, work, and play. The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified and emphasized the vital role of the virtual community in everyday life. This period has taught many of us how to live online, from video conferencing with far-flung family and friends for game nights and special occasions, to digitizing work meetings, and even to meeting and socializing with new people in virtual environments.†
And experts believe that even when public safety regulations allow in-person activities to open back up, virtual communitiesí presence will remain alive and well. According to a Facebook survey of over 15,000 members who participate in online communities, 86 percent of people expect to remain as active, if not more active, in that online group after the pandemic.
For many people, virtual communities and events such as virtual yoga classes, virtual dinner parties, and virtual church services offer an attractive alternative to in-person meetups. Hereís why.
Distance Becomes Irrelevant
Through online communities and events, people have been able to remain connected to others near and far. For some, that means connecting with distant relatives more frequently than they could if travel were needed. For others, it means expanded access to instructors, coaches, headliners, and other leaders who may only have been reachable by locals before. Business meetings may no longer ask for days of travel, instead favoring virtual team and client meetings that free up more time for family and personal life.
Itís Safer and Easier
Some people, including those who are immunocompromised or have other chronic conditions, may be limited in their ability to attend events safely. Consider people with multiple sclerosis (MS), for example, who may experience chronic pain, frequent fatigue, and MS leg weakness. Virtual communities allow these people to remain connected and avoid becoming isolated and lonely, which are significant barriers to health and thriving especially for people who have chronic conditions, who are older, or who are part of stigmatized groups and identities. In this way, virtual communities will continue to offer a safe space, physically and emotionally, for many people.†
Virtual events may also be easier. Digital platforms allow for easy polling and interaction with conference participants for real-time feedback and engagement, for example. And working from home means the day starts as soon as your coffee kicks in, not when you finally make it through traffic.†
Lasting Disinterest in Large Gatherings
As the pandemic continues, anxiety about public health safety measures continue to shape how people show up and engage in the world. After months of social distancing, some people feel apprehensive about physical proximity and the idea of being in a crowd. Virtual communities are here to offer a respite from the anxiety as we acclimate to a new normal, which may take some time.
Online May Be More Stable
The pandemic has shown that online groups and activities may well offer more stability than in-person activities. Should there be another drastic shift in our daily reality, itís likely that online communities and events will survive and sustain us again.†
These groups have also become a source of community that is incredibly meaningful ó in Facebookís survey, 98 percent of respondents said they felt a strong sense of community and kinship within their groups. Itís unlikely these stable communities will dissolve overnight.
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