# Introduction The Virtual Community
The book starts with this quote:
> 'People who use computers to communicate, form friendships that sometimes form the basis of communities, but you have to be careful to not mistake the tool for the task and think that just writing words on a screen is the same thing as real community.'"
Here you find this critical notion of what constitutes a real community vs. "just writing words on a screen".
This is the second quote:
> It is our task--our essential, central, crucial task--to transform ourselves from mere social creatures into community creatures. It is the only way that human evolution will be able to proceed.
This quote is from the work of [Scott Peck](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._Scott_Peck#Bibliography), an American psychiatrist who published about the characteristics of true communities.
Howard starts with an account of his membership of [The Well](https://www.well.com/), one of the oldest online communities and still exists. He also mentions other venues such as [Internet Relay Chat](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Relay_Chat), Minitel, [Multi-User Dungeons](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD) (MUDs) and [Bulletin Board Systems](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulletin_board_system) (BBS).
> I have written this book to help inform a wider population about the potential importance of cyberspace to political liberties and the ways virtual communities are likely to change our experience of the real world, as individuals and communities. Although I am enthusiastic about the liberating potentials of computer-mediated communications, I try to keep my eyes open for the pitfalls of mixing technology and human relationships.
> What we know and do now is important because it is still possible for people around the world to make sure this new sphere of vital human discourse remains open to the citizens of the planet before the political and economic big boys seize it, censor it, meter it, and sell it back to us.
**The Net** is an informal term for the loosely interconnected computer networks that use CMC technology to link people around the world into public discussions. (CMC stands for "computer mediated communications")
**Virtual communities** are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.
**Cyberspace**, originally a term from William Gibson's science-fiction novel Neuromancer, is the name some people use for the conceptual space where words, human relationships, data, wealth, and power are manifested by people using CMC technology.
An interesting metaphor:
> In terms of the way the whole system is propagating and evolving, think of cyberspace as a social petri dish, the Net as the agar medium, and virtual communities, in all their diversity, as the colonies of microorganisms that grow in petri dishes. Each of the small colonies of microorganisms--the communities on the Net--is a social experiment that nobody planned but that is happening nevertheless.
Howard describes the various, often initially very disconnected, forces which created the Net. He refers to the activist [John Gilmore](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gilmore_(activist)), who played an important role as a technologist and a defender of citizen's rights.
Another Net-pioneer who is mentioned in the introduction is [John Quarterman. ](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Quarterman). His book The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide is interesting stuff for internet historians. What he describes in the book, is a world full of islands of connectivity, but is was non-trivial to connect these islands.
Howard was not the only one to study The Well. The sociologist Marc Smith did fieldwork in that community and developed his theory of [the common goods](https://dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/dlc/bitstream/handle/10535/4363/Voices_from_the_WELL.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y): social network capital, knowledge capital, and communion. Howard was not the only one to study The Well. The sociologist Marc Smith did fieldwork in that community and developed his theory of [the common goods](https://): social network capital, knowledge capital, and communion.
Howard fears that ever fewer people will control commercial mass-media.
> Maybe the Net can save democracy? The political significance of CMC lies in its capacity to challenge the existing political hierarchy's monopoly on powerful communications media, and perhaps thus revitalize citizen-based democracy. The way image-rich, sound-bite-based commercial media have co-opted political discourse among citizens is part of a political problem that communications technologies have posed for democracy for decades. The way the number of owners or telecommunication channels is narrowing to a tiny elite, while the reach and power of the media they own expand, is a converging threat to citizens. Which scenario seems more conducive to democracy, which to totalitarian rule: a world in which a few people control communications technology that can be used to manipulate the beliefs of billions, or a world in which every citizen can broadcast to every other citizen?
However, Howard warns:
> The same tool, improperly controlled and wielded, could become an instrument of tyranny. The vision of a citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network is a version of technological utopianism that could be called the vision of "the electronic agora." In the original democracy, Athens, the agora was the marketplace, and more--it was where citizens met to talk, gossip, argue, size each other up, find the weak spots in political ideas by debating about them. But another kind of vision could apply to the use of the Net in the wrong ways, a shadow vision of a less utopian kind of place--the Panopticon.