One of the most amazing qualities of the Internet is the way it enables us to find comrades who share medical conditions, diagnoses, or health challenges that make us feel alone and isolated. When we really need help personalizing the vast amounts of content, support communities allow us to talk to others rather than simply access information. The world celebrated 30 years of the Internet this year, and it’s easier than ever to directly connect with another person who shares a condition, diagnosis, or question.
There are active support groups in large cities that embrace those who need help, but the online world provides outreach that you can’t get offline. People in smaller populations who need a support community can maintain social connections and empower themselves as advocates or activists. The communities and social interactions formed online can be invaluable and life-affirming.
That feeling that you’re not alone
Communities look different than they did three decades ago, but the purpose is the same. Helping people develop their interests, finding other people who share the same interests, and developing connections to help one another. Digital technology is a vital tool for creating communities in the modern world because it offers access to established groups and the ability to organize a new group. The ability to access the Internet from smartphones furthered the revolution.
Equality of access
The phone in the palm of your hand has more power than the machines that calculated the first successful moon launch. The little devices allow us to post our experiences, call for change, and organize. Social networking and activism are accessible to groups through their phones, allowing them to showcase issues, express opinions, and coordinate awareness. Although the cost of technology may present a barrier to some, every person can get involved in a cause.
The Internet is a powerful tool for a community to engage and make a wider audience aware of the issues that affect them. For example, online networking communities are accessible to those who can’t express their opinion through a vote. The rise of political activism in high schools in the past two years is a great example, e.g., students organized nationwide school protests for the climate and to end gun violence.
The difference is getting involved
Technology brings information to your fingertips, but when people come together to help each other, it makes a difference in the lives of others. The connections and bonding that take place between people in a community is a critical step that develops tolerance and acceptance rather than othering. People look to these networks for more than just information. They seek affirmation, acceptance, and approval.
That’s not to say the Internet is all positive. Trolls, doxxing, and spam are things that didn’t exist 30 years ago either. As with all communities, you need regulations, policing, and involvement to make it a success. Building a support community requires establishing policies for conduct that make the community a nurturing environment. Moderators and administrators police for bad actors and ensure that everyone in the community follows regulations. Online involvement, like its real-life counterpart, is measured by engagement.
Examples of thriving communities
Women have a long history of building support communities, and the online world is no different. There are thriving communities of women who help each other through the experience of all things related to childbearing. If you’re a passionate supporter of women it won’t come as a surprise that support groups exist for every stage of child-rearing, including the pain and suffering of infertility, the unique experience of pregnancy, the emotional trials of a surrogate mother, the various medical issues of childbirth, and raising children at every age. Women support one another through an unusual, emotional journey in chat rooms, Facebook groups, websites, and blogging.
There are a lot of emotions
It’s astounding how dramatically the economy, media, advertising, and even personal connections have changed since the advent of the Internet. It’s responsible for instant communication worldwide, universal access to media and information, and virtual worlds. Many people wonder if the Internet is responsible for more division than inclusion, but there is a bright spot you can’t ignore. Reading about the experience of others in support communities gives you a fascinating look at a world you might not have known exists. Community members form powerful connections around the world; devotion to the human connection is still paramount. One of the best outcomes of the Internet is the enduring ability of people to support one another and build a community out of nothing.