The Essence of Community

If the transition to the Third Wave is so positive, why are we experiencing
so much anxiety? Why are the statistics of social decay at or near
all-time highs? Why does cyberspatial “rapture” strike millions of
prosperous Westerners as lifestyle rupture? Why do the principles that have
held us together as a nation seem no longer sufficient–or even wrong?

The incoherence of political life is mirrored in disintegrating
personalities. Whether 100% covered by health plans or not,
psychotherapists and gurus do a land-office business, as people wander
aimlessly amid competing therapies. People slip into cults and covens or,
alternatively, into a pathological privatism, convinced that reality is
absurd, insane or meaningless. “If things are so good,” Forbes magazine
asked recently, “why do we feel so bad?”

In part, this is why: Because we constitute the final generation of an old
civilization and, at the very same time, the first generation of a new one.

Much of our personal confusion and social disorientation is traceable to
conflict within us and within our political institutions–between the dying
Second Wave civilization and the emergent Third Wave civilization
thundering in to take its place.

Second Wave ideologues routinely lament the breakup of mass society. Rather
than seeing this enriched diversity as an opportunity for human
development, they attach it as “fragmentation” and “balkanization.” But to
reconstitute democracy in Third Wave terms, we need to jettison the
frightening but false assumption that more diversity automatically brings
more tension and conflict in society.

Indeed, the exact reverse can be true: If 100 people all desperately want
the same brass ring, they may be forced to fight for it. On the other hand,
if each of the 100 has a different objective, it is far more rewarding for
them to trade, cooperate, and form symbiotic relationships. Given
appropriate social arrangements, diversity can make for a secure and stable

No one knows what the Third Wave communities of the future will look like,
or where “demassification” will ultimately lead. It is clear, however, that
cyberspace will play an important role knitting together in the diverse
communities of tomorrow, facilitating the creation of “electronic
neighborhoods” bound together not by geography but by shared interests.

Socially, putting advanced computing power in the hands of entire
populations will alleviate pressure on highways, reduce air pollution,
allow people to live further away from crowded or dangerous urban areas,
and expand family time.

The late Phil Salin (in Release 1.0 11/25/91) offered this perspective:

“By 2000, multiple cyberspaces will have emerged, diverse and increasingly
rich. Contrary to naive views, these cyberspaces will not all be the same,
and they will not all be open to the general public. The global network is
a connected “platform” for a collection of diverse communities, but only a
loose, heterogeneous community itself. Just as access to homes, offices,
churches and department stores is controlled by their owners or managers,
most virtual locations will exist as distinct places of private property.”

“But unlike the private property of today,” Salin continued, “the potential
variations on design and prevailing customs will explode, because many
variations can be implemented cheaply in software. And the ‘externalities’
associated with variations can drop; what happens in one cyberspace can be
kept from affecting other cyberspaces.”

“Cyberspaces” is a wonderful pluralistic word to open more minds to the
Third Wave’s civilizing potential. Rather than being a centrifugal force
helping to tear society apart, cyberspace can be one of the main forms of
glue holding together an increasingly free and diverse society.