Is DeviantArt a community…?


tardis_by_homemadezombieit’s flashback time! I originally posted this editorial on DeviantArt.Com, on November 21, 2006.

Deviant Art is NOT a community.

There has been a lot of talk recently, especially around the recent anniversary, of weather or not DA is a “community.” I’ve been on the Internet since it was still called Bitnet, NREN, and some other names I can no longer recall. The 1990’s were a very difficult period in my life, so with regards to the Internet and what it holds, I’m probably jaded and bitter. But in my opinion, the Internet doesn’t have communities. It never did.

My experience with online groups started out well enough, but it really went south during my “dark time.” I found that a very large proportion of the people on the Internet tended to lie and deceive at every turn. I also found many net denizens to be hopelessly immature, or just emotionally messed up. Sometimes both. Given my own emotional state at the time, constantly talking with such people was at best, a questionable practice, but I did it anyway. To my ultimate regret.

During my periodic fits of loneliness or boredom, I would go on-line looking for some human interaction. While I was able to conduct conversations with people, via newsgroups or chat rooms, I was never satisfied. After a while I found that I would log off feeling worse than when I logged on! When on-line, you think you’re socializing, when really you aren’t. The bait-switch nature of this online “socializing” felt very cruel. I was better off moping at home than getting on line. At least if I was moping around my apartment, I was being honest in my feelings.

Some people can still see a “community” in Internet-based groups. But for me, if I don’t know a person at least via telephone, then I don’t consider them a friend. A positive acquaintance, yes. A potential friend, certainly. But until I meet them in person, I won’t call them a real friend. It takes at least two friends to make a community, in my opinion, so if friends aren’t possible over the Internet, then neither are communities.

As for DA, for me, it’s simply an art gallery. It was never anything else. I look at the pictures, read the prose, post comments or critiques from time to time, and I’ve even put up a few items. But I don’t think of it as a community. I went into DA thinking “art gallery,” not community. The Internet is not where I go to socialize. It’s a commodity or an appliance that I use when I need something else.

The Internet somehow seems fake. I know that it’s supposed to bring people together, to exchange ideas and stuff. I remember when I first went online in 1992, the Internet (or NREN) was still an idealized forum for scholars and artisans. Within two years it became the loneliest, more alienating place on Earth. Instead of growing into utopian forum for ideas and creativity, it became an electronic version of east Las Vegas, where people would lie about who and what they are, and where various forms of deception were the norm instead of the rule. It was a virtual “red light” district, devoid of any real human interaction.

I guess I’m one of those who requires the “human touch.” I may well be in the minority in this regard. If you’re one of those people who can still enjoy the Internet as a social forum, and see Deviant Art and similar places as actual communities, then by all means, continue to enjoy it. But I’ve found the real, unplugged world, with all of it’s ugly flaws, to be far more satisfying.

The ultimate personal irony is the network handle I used when I started: Cyberbard. I’ve become about as un-Cyber as a man can get. If someone had told me in 1993 that Cyberbard would eventually turn into a borderline Luddite, I would have told them they were crazy.

Crazy is as crazy does.

I did receive some comments on this one, contesting my view. I will give credit to the creators of DeviantArt for trying to make it an online community. I think they did the best they could. I don’t think a true community is possible in an online environment, so try as they might, they were destined to fail. Sorry, guys.