Groups, Groups, Groups …

A couple of days ago I received a message on my Facebook Messenger from an old friend asking if I (and everyone on the list) would be interested in making/joining a WA group. The invitees were, as a matter of note, the alumni of a scholarship that we all received many years ago.

Making a group, having a group, or belonging to a group is fine. I have nothing against it. Humans are social animals. We live in groups. We seek and make our own groups based on the similarities we share. Groups provide us with identity and security we all need. Groups allow us to express ourselves in a manner that is agreeable because of the identity, values and purposes we share. Groups give us a level of emotional support and/or satisfaction that we can not get otherwise from those who do not share much with us. Groups allow us to work together purposively, effectively, to achieve a common goal or goals and dreams.

However, I feel that [formal] group-making has become too instantaneous and too light a matter in this digital age. Anyone, or almost anyone, can now initiate a group for whatever reason with just a click of a button. Membership is also quite ‘fluid’ – you don’t need a profoundly felt sense of ‘binding'(?) or purpose to make one. All you need is a skin-deep feeling that you belong or can belong to a group or a feeling that it is rightful to make one. You don’t even need to be in close proximity with the potential members, or have interacted enough to create a sense of belonging that is necessary for a group to form. Nominal similarities – whether subjectively claimed or real – are considered enough reason to make or join a group.

Of course, there have always been two ways of creating a group: bottom up or top to bottom. With the former, the shared identity is developed over time and through relatively intense interaction. Proximity – nearness in space, time or relationship – is also an important factor. Because of these factors, bottom up groups are usually stronger and more lasting than those groups that are created from top to bottom. Like a seed, the roots have taken hold long before the tree grows and they grow with it. With the latter, the process is reversed. You have the tree first, then you try to grow roots from it. It’s more or less like grafting. A tree produced from grafting may have more desirable quality in terms of the characteristics we want to get from it, but it has weaker roots and may not last as long as a tree that grows from a seed.

Groups created on a whim online or through social media, I think, tend to have the characteristics of the latter. Unless the sentiment cause has previously been strongly felt by its members – who do not necessarily know one another personally and/or interacted enough to create a sense of proximity – such a group is more or less superficial. It is a body void of soul or kindred spirit to form an organism that can sustain its own life.

Of course, interactions can follow after the body is created. But interactions taking place in cyberspace cannot, by nature, be compared to those taking place in the real world. The spatial and temporal closeness created in virtual reality is simulated and involved only a limited number of sensual experiences. Obviously missing are the senses of touch, smell, and taste, which – as yet at least – can not be transmitted through the cyber world. Without these senses, the emotional experiences gained from such interactions become castrated and less vigorous. They would not yield the same kind of bond that real interactions do.

The easiness with which cyberspace groups are created also means that anybody at anytime can create them. Now, imagine the variety of interactional spheres one can have in their life: family, friends, neighbours, hobby enthusiasts, business connections, school groups and cohorts … If a group is created for each, how many cyber groups one should be involved in, in addition to the real world’s engagements they have to attend to? Not to mention that they now can intrude into your private-life spheres at anytime anywhere (unlike in real life where you can put partitions – where the beginning of one is the end of the other).

Frankly speaking, I find cyber groups more of a nuisance than a comfort, an intrusion than a connection. Of course, they do have certain benefits. But do those benefits outweigh the encroachment of private and personal space that we need to life sanely?

Eki Akhwan, December 28, 2015.

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