Participation in Community Has Many Definitions

Due to my life and my nature, I come and go on this list. Sometimes I'm a lurker and sometimes I'm a poster. I prefer to think of it as covert participation vs. overt participation. Some of you may remember when I posted more often. It has been quite some time since then, though. I don't like the term Lurker, never have. The sinister and menacing connotation of lurk comes to mind. I realize the term is part of the vernacular of the Internet and so I use it.

I lurked a month or two before I posted my first message (approx. 18-20 months ago) to Web Socks. It was one of the first lists I had ever subscribed to and I was unsure how to proceed. I just read posts for a while to figure out how I was suppose to "do it." I wanted to engender no animosity nor ridicule. I had read that someone on the list abhorred poor writing especially bad grammar and spelling. A couple people concurred and the idea stuck with me (so much so I delayed my first post -- and almost did not post at all!). I attempted to be as careful as I could when I composed my posts. Writing has never come easily to me nor been my strong suit. Also, I'm not as "fast to the draw" as some. I need to reflect on what I have read and often by the time I have finished doing so the list has moved on to other topics and I believe going with this flow is part of the process. Often, I do not post because someone has already expressed my opinion (often quite articulately). I usually prefer to respond if I have something new to add.

Sandy writes that, "An email list is there for give and take, interaction, participation etc." Actually, I did not realize that this was the definition of a list, but I'd never thought about it. It seems reasonable, though. However, I do suppose it depends on one's personal definition of "give and take" and "participation." I believe I participate in this community just by being subscribed and reading the posts. I believe that my very presence in front of my computer monitor, my willingness to read your thoughts and opinions, to ponder what you have shared, to laugh at your jokes, to sometimes weep and worry about you when you are having difficulties allows me to be part of this community. I do not expect every person who subscribes* to participate to the extent that they actually post. (As in other communities, some people are more present and vocal and some are less. But in my mind all are part of the community.) Rather, it is enough for me they just read what has been written. That, as I do, they pause and think as they consider a perspective that has been presented to them by another. Perhaps (I hope), in some small way being a covert participant makes their own lives easier and engenders a feeling of kindred spirit and fellowship. I know it is so for me.

While people may participate at different levels (e.g. read and never post, read and post occasionally, read and post a lot), I still fervently believe that we are all participating in this community. And that our different levels of participation should be accepted and encouraged. I don't believe using the term Lurker does that. I believe that we need to use another term. If enough people use it, it will be accepted...

© copyright, 1998, Suzanne Brunetti
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