Online Community vs. IRL Community

I feel like I can definitely see the ways in which Graphic Medicine and Hatfield speak to each other. Just as graphic medicine rejects the objective-case-study “universal patient” and embraces the unique subjectivity of individuals, so does Hatfield embrace the subjective experience of individual trans people. There is neither a “universal patient” nor a “universal trans person,” so efforts to document the experiences of these populations (or any population) in an objective manner inevitably erase facets of truth.

I think Hatfield’s argument to merge the library with the people it serves is a really fascinating and potentially very beneficial idea. My one concern is that real-life meetings and forums are inevitably, inherently different from communities that form online. For starters, will people want to attend a meeting at their local library at eight-o’clock on a Thursday, leaving their own warm homes and driving maybe thirty minutes in the dark? The Internet does not require us to put on clothes or leave our homes. It also provides relative anonymity and allows us to duck out of a conversation at any time without anyone noticing. Time, in fact, works differently on the Internet – there is no such thing as an awkward silence, a gap of time that we feel we must fill with conversation. We can easily converse with someone who is not present right now, but who happens to see our post or comment later. People can contribute from anywhere in the world, and thus the community forms without geographic limitations.

Because of these differences, creating a participatory community at a library or archive will inherently be a different animal from creating such a community on the web. Envision for a moment the small, classroom-esque library room, fluorescently lit and a little chilly, with a circle of wooden, straight-backed chairs. Everyone has dragged themselves out their door uncertain who else would be here. Someone coughs.

This is a different environment from the Internet. Hugely. It is local, it is personal, it is face-to-face, and it is grounded in time. I wonder if it is possible for the unreserved sharing of personal details that we see on the Internet to occur in a setting like this. For instance, the author of “I Do Not Have an Eating Disorder,” who struggled over whether to publish several pages of her comic, would likely not have done so if she were confronted with a half-circle of faces, waiting expectantly to hear her story.

I think the medium is the key here. Graphic medicine empowers patients not just by welcoming their comments and opinions, but by inviting them to draw comics. Patients contribute to the archive of information on their illness and patient experience by producing comics themselves. This, I suspect, is a superior medium to the verbal-exchange forum proposed by Hatfield. Conversation requires us to hurry – we have to collect our thoughts to match the rhythm of the conversation. If someone talks too much, others can’t speak; if you don’t speak up fast enough, someone has already taken the stage. What if trans people were invited to add their stories to library archives through comics? Or, short stories or poetry or memoirs – whatever their choice of medium. This at least enables each individual to collect their thoughts in the privacy of their own lives, and share what they ultimately want to share. It would be interesting to formulate a system by which library readers could then comment upon the materials contributors had submitted, creating a kind of community that more closely resembles what we would find online.

Favorite Ayssa comic:

Oh Hey! It’s Alyssa #16: The Gelders (Part Two)

2 thoughts on “Online Community vs. IRL Community

  1. johnsowr

    I think your analysis/critique of incorporating existing Internet communities to library spaces is really good. I agree that there is a difference between the level of participation between online and IRL that would make people be less interested in library participation. I guess reading this article I more imagined getting webcomics into the libraries as the method.

  2. drinkwca

    I think you offer a really valuable and important aspect of nuance to Hatfield’s argument. I think it’s super important to note the difference between the participatory aspects and accessibility of an online community versus real life meetings. I am somewhat surprised Hatfield neglected to mention this, but I’m glad you brought it up here!


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