# Chapter one of The Virtual Community: The Heart of The Well
[The Well](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_WELL) is one of the oldest [still existing](https://www.well.com/) online communities.
Howard reports about his experiences in the Parenting conference of The Well, starting out with the story of his baby being attacked by a tick in the Summer of 1986 and how he got useful help from a specialist via The Well.
The members of The Well were (still are?) concentrated in the San Francisco area and they have events "in real life". Examples given are picnic events but also solidarity actions helping families with seriously ill children. Howard:
> for virtual communities require more than words on a screen at some point if they intend to be other than ersatz.
Maybe written language allows people to be more authentic:
> Some people--many people--don't do well in spontaneous spoken interaction, but turn out to have valuable contributions to make in a conversation in which they have time to think about what to say. These people, who might constitute a significant proportion of the population, can find written communication more authentic than the face-to-face kind. Who is to say that this preference for one mode of communication--informal written text--is somehow less authentically human than audible speech?
Well, Plato for one was very worried about written speech - which was ironic, since he was a great writer himself.
Some important thinkers about virtual communities:
> The existence of computer-linked communities was predicted twenty-five years ago by J. C. R. Licklider and Robert Taylor, research directors for the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), who set in motion the research that resulted in the creation of the first such community, the ARPANET
The ARPANET had some clear limitations as a community. [Wikipedia ](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARPANET)quotes a 1982 MIT handbook about network etiquette:
> It is considered illegal to use the ARPANet for anything which is not in direct support of Government business ... personal messages to other ARPANet subscribers (for example, to arrange a get-together or check and say a friendly hello) are generally not considered harmful ... Sending electronic mail over the ARPANet for commercial profit or political purposes is both anti-social and illegal. By sending such messages, you can offend many people, and it is possible to get MIT in serious trouble with the Government agencies which manage the ARPANet.
Is cyberspace compensating things which got lost in society? Spaces where people could mingle in an informal way?
> Perhaps cyberspace is one of the informal public places where people can rebuild the aspects of community that were lost when the malt shop became a mall. Or perhaps cyberspace is precisely the wrong place to look for the rebirth of community, offering not a tool for conviviality but a life-denying simulacrum of real passion and true commitment to one another.
Howard agrees that the Net makes new forms of obfuscation possible, but he also points out how it can make communication more authentic.
> Because we cannot see one another in cyberspace, gender, age, national origin, and physical appearance are not apparent unless a person wants to make such characteristics public. People whose physical handicaps make it difficult to form new friendships find that virtual communities treat them as they always wanted to be treated--as thinkers and transmitters of ideas and feeling beings, not carnal vessels with a certain appearance and way of walking and talking (or not walking and not talking).
All of which does not prevent Howard from documenting new (at that time) phenomena such as internet connection, illustrated by a tragic story of someone (Blair Newman) who switched from cocaine to online communities. Also illustrated by the story of Blair Newman is a very early example of 'the right to be forgotten' as Blair destroyed his conversations on The Well ('mass-scribbling' as it became known in that community).
The massive destruction of digital assets may seem as deeply sad. On the other hand, words on a screen have a special power.
> Words on a screen can hurt people. Although online conversation might have the ephemeral and informal feeling of a telephone conversation, it has the reach and permanence of a publication.