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The Importance of Digital Discourse Communities

Although it might seem hard to envision it, there once was a world without Twitter. Without Twitter, people would have to grab their house phone, dial a 7 digit number, and wait for their friend to answer. Strenuous as it may sound, its completely true. Communication on the social level has climbed drastically every year with each new social media on the beast that we call the internet. Now, in a world where sending an email can be done on a phone in 5 seconds, the information you share can be done on endless amounts of planes. You can Tweet, update your status, blog about your day, all on a phone from nearly anywhere in the world. This concept of people communicating with each other over a certain medium (i.e. internet) is called discourse communities. Online communities, needless to say, have been greatly changed by the internets appearance in society. Any message that you want to get across to another person can be delivered in seconds now, whereas phone calls could take a few minutes, and letters could take days. There are those who would consider todays society as one with too much information being thrown around, whereas others could say the internet has broadened the horizon on which one person can communicate with another. Digital discourse communities in this day and age have added many unique and positive ways in which we communicate with each other, despite being somewhat dangerous in terms of personal information. First, lets define what a discourse community is. In John Swales article The Concept of Discourse Community he explains 6 basic rules discourse communities either have or do. The best one that can explain what a discourse community is rule # 1: Each discourse community has a set of goals that it offers the public (471). For example, Facebooks goal is to help you share information between two or more people. Ebay uses its system to try and find and

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auction things off to people in a specific community. So where the internet has sites and systems of communication, you participate in the discourse community of your choice on any site. The general consensus has been that the internet has turned the world upside-down. With such a flow of information at peoples fingertips Dennis Baron writes in his article From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies, apparently the success of the next communication innovation depends on the accessibility, function, and authentication, (424). This is the formula for how new discourse communities are formed, like Twitter, Wikipedia, or Facebook. Facebook and Twitter go through multiple updates a month, making it easier and easier to access new information and communicate. Wikipedia offers a specific place to search for things and share with one another, a revolutionary site that made the search for what you need easy. Wikipedia is a great example of a useful digital discourse, it is an open encyclopedia which allows for people to add their own bits and pieced of knowledge to help better inform others. In 2005 the journal Nature, a blind side by side comparison was conducted between Wikipedia and Britannica. The study showed that there were 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia; not too bad for a free online collaborative. As these internet applications become popular among users, more information begins to pour through the internet waves. To some, this might be a bad thing. For cyber-bullies, this is another vessel to hassle regular people via an anonymous I.P. address. Some parents, concerned citizens, and teachers have come out against the internet because of instances of abuse or private information being shown to strangers, which is a real problem today. More and more internet virus have sprung up, with identity theft being the viral disease. This makes people wonder if indeed the internet is the right place to have a discourse community.

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As a defender of the internet, I would be remiss if I didnt mention that there are plenty of security applications you can purchase, and these work to hold your information private. The concept is best thought of as putting a helmet on before you ride a bike. If you want to go on the internet (bike), you had better turn on your computer safety settings (helmet). A few more good tips include signing out of any site that you belong as a member to. This includes banks, any instant messenger, and your email. Keeping your information is as easy as you make it. Another good idea is to make complicated passwords, so that your information cant be easily hacked. Instead of a password like alligator3, something like s5trgh89 would be much tougher to crack for any hacker. A different argument that has been brought up is that its difficult to have a voice and authority on a discourse community, since there are so many people in on the conversation. However, to authors Ann M. Penrose and Cheryl Geisler, its as simple as believing its okay to not know everything. In their article Reading and Writing without Authority: they state; we need to understand the development of knowledge as a communal and continual process, (613). This makes sense, because a learning community is exactly that; community rooted in learning. We do not come out of the womb all knowing, but yet we still manage to become members of discourse communities throughout our lives. So although a person may go into a website about Star Trek and write a post about something theyve been curious about, someone with authority in the group can inform that individual. Theres no need for any intellectual battle, put pride behind you because asking questuons is something that all discourse communities do. As people gain knowledge, its easy to believe the questions they have will grow as well. The internets many resources offer a wealth of knowledge to those who embrace, not ignore, their intellectual growth.

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So with all this educational growth, is it so bad to see discourse communities take over the internet? Well that all depends on how and what you learn. Many activists are against the internet being used to spread knowledge, because it might lead to cheating. Sites like Sparknotes, who offer short synopses and plot overviews of all their books, have made classroom cheating easy. Many teachers have complained, saying that a student might spend 5-10 minutes looking at a webpage instead of spending 2-3 hours reading a book. However kids are always going to be able to cheat no matter what teachers do, and some students who actually read still use Sparknotes for the right reasons. For example it can be used as a tool to help students fully grasp what the text is trying to say, when the teacher isnt available. Another alternative puts the internet at a significant importance with a classroom. Like the phrase says, If you cant beat em, join em, teachers are using more online and modern ways to help students learn. Instead of talking directly to the students, new programs run images and information through interactive gameplay or attentive study. Because the internet and computers are so big now, education takes the role of the teacher and the guide, helping the student learn through guided study. Looking into the future, education through internet and computer exposure could prove to be life-changing. This process has already been adapted by home schooling and online colleges. These online courses allow students to learn no matter where they are and even between free periods in the day, which helps those who are trying to get an education while working. In a short film entitled Us Now, light is shed on just how impactful online communities are. On sites like YouTube, you can post a How-to video on something you might have to really, really search hard for in a book or manual. If you missed the Presidential Debate, you could just watch it on YouTube, or go on the affiliated site and post about it. For one person to

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communicate to several others at the same time is groundbreaking, on the level of discourse communities at least. You might use a weblog to keep track of what youve been doing with your life, and others can read your story. The only thing holding mankind back now is itself. Limitations are whatever people decide they are, as long as there are communities in which someone can belong to. Weblogs, sometimes called blogging, are great examples of internet independency in discourse communities. In his article Geography of the Blogosphere: Representing the Culture, Ecology, and of Weblogs, Nicholas Packwood talks about the different ways weblogs function: Channeling exchanges between and among blogs takes the form of a variety of energy flows. The blogosphere can be thought of as a market that is made up not only of links but other forms of relationship and reciprocity. These multiple, overlapping and interconnected forms of exchange may be articulated using an ecological model. This has been suggested to be discourse evolution. Society has chosen its preferred method of discourse, and its online. So online isnt bad, it helps people to learn, its efficient; so what does that mean about physical contact? Nicole Browns article entitled The Regionalization of Cyberspace: Making visible the Spatial Discourse of Community Online, there is extensive coverage of evidence that points toward language and space. For example, she writes At times, rows of desks may be [re]arranged into circles, encouraging and making visible the value that we place on peer discussion and the social construction of knowledge. This puts a special value on how we value other peoples opinions, and the concept of learning itself. In essence, how we learn is as important as what we learn. She goes further on, saying that Now, with millions of people corresponding online, traditional conceptions of how people meet, speak, and interact are being rethought. So because of the new technologies and ways we meet have been expanded, the

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ways in which people act are being rethought. So that means that physical contact isnt necessarily mandatory for online discourse communities. Dan Brown, a professional video blogger/youtuber, tells his story through a speech he gave at VidCon, the largest convention for the video discourse community. He argues the huge implications the internet has on almost every kind of discourse community saying; As a result of the internet, more people, from more places, are connected to, and interacting with, more other people, from more other places, than ever before in all of human history. Since discourses made their way online, Mr. Brown has been utilizing the information gained and exchanged to increase his knowledge. Again the concept of gaining knowledge because of the amount of people/discussion that the internet gives to people. However, can this remain a positive thing in the future? If things go unchanged, and more and more people seek to use online discourse communities, it could happen that newspapers go entirely extinct, with new weblogs and online investigations being put on news sites. This isnt necessarily a bad thing, but this could put more than a few people out of jobs, which is a growing problem in itself. With more and more up-tothe-second updates happening, a flood of information keeps each person in the know quicker, and could help to educate people on a whole new pace. Learning from digital discourses isnt necessarily staring at a computer screen, its more of interacting with those who are knowledgeable and want to teach. Instead of flying to Brazil to learn about their culture, a simple Skype invite can unite two people wishing to exchange their lifes information. Asking questions and becoming involved are teachings that the like of Plato

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enforced. So if our communities keep on being put in use, then no one but ourselves can limit what we can teach our children with the technology we have now. By branching out to politics in discourse communities, the future might hold some very different characters. Those logging into YouTube can watch political ads, comment below and read what others have to say about the politician. People might be able to vote online in the future, watching and reading articles posted by bloggers and people following the debates, and the next President could be chosen online! This makes more sense because the rate of exchange between people online and people offline are very different. Much more information can be shared online rather than in person or over the phone. As the internet has become the leading source in news coverage and social-media sites, it has also become the scapegoat for the BAD kind of discourse communities: illegal activity communities. Examples of these include people who illegally download music, spam or sell illegal things via internet messaging, etc. In fact, recently a bill called SOPA was introduced to stop some of those activities. It would edit the internet so that it would be more controlled. However, as discourse communities learned about this online battle, an overwhelming amount of people showed that they DID NOT want the bill to pass. As public hatred towards this bill became obvious, it was subsequently dropped. This is the perfect example of how good discourse communities function; they allow people to be organized and operate quickly and effectively. If it werent for all of the online communities sharing their thoughts to others, this achievement wouldnt have been made. This doesnt excuse those pirates who illegally bootleg different online material. In the future, the government has repeatedly stated that further measures are going to be made in the

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future to help stop those people taking advantage of others. And it makes sense as well, because most musical releases are done digitally now, preventing in-store theft. Movies are also being released digitally, although the business isnt as profitable as music, or music videos. Today, the problem of online theft and music theft is still a huge problem, and law-makers are fighting to stop it. So all throughout the evolution of discourse communities, from bars and cafs to the internet and cyberspace, our society has gone viral. One last question remains to be reflected upon: How much information is too much information? Some people feel that people today are looking for too much information, and dropping their focus from reality itself. More people seem to engage in online chat rooms and Tweeting than actually living their day. Is it wasteful to spend time on a discourse community, rather than taking a walk, enjoying nature? Well that all depends on your life goals and whats important to you. The sharing of information isnt a bad thing, as long as you appreciate life and you achieve enjoyment of life as you learn new things. Experiencing different peoples lives by talking with them actually serves as a cultural education, interacting with others on a personal level. Future generations can take advantage of what society has learned and can talk to people from China, who can teach them about the a whole new culture they might not be familiar with. Whatever the case may be to edit social discourse through the internet, it should be harnessed to help teach different cultures. As long as the person is adventurous, it cant be too harmful to belong on to multiple online discourse communities. Between the education, political, social, and moral issues of online discourse communities, it might seem hard to get a grip on what a society like todays should do with them.

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Todays technology has only just been discovered, and it takes years to truly examine the impact it has had on a global community. However, with careful application of certain principles, and the well-designed fixes of todays problems, online discourse communities have the potential to change the human race for the better.

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Work Cited
Baron, Dennis, From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies. Passions, Pedagies, and 21st Century Technologies. Ed. Gail Hawisher and Cynthis Selfe. Loagan: Utah State UP, 1999. 15-33. Print Brown, Dan. Dan Brown and His #secretproject at VidCon 2010. Perf. Dan Brown. Revision3, 2010. Youtube Video. Brown, Nicole. "The Regionalization of Cyberspace: Making Visible the Spatial Discourse of Community Online." Web log post. Composition Forum. Apr.-May 2006. Web. 2 Mar. 2012. Kaltenbach, Susan. The Evolution of the Online Discourse Community. Dec. 2000. Article. Swales, John. The Concept of Discourse Community. Genre Analysis: English in Academic And Research Setting. Boston: Caimbridge UP, 1990. 21-32. Print. Packwood, Nicholas. "Geography of the Blogosphere: Representing the Culture, Ecology and Community of Weblogs." Weblog post. Http:// Wilfrid Laurier University. Web. 2 Mar. 2012. Penrose, Ann M., and Cheryl Geisler. Reading and writing without Authority. College Composition and Communication 45.4 (1994): 505-20. Print. Terdiman, Daniel. "Study: Wikipedia as Accurate as Britannica." CNET News. CBS Interactive, 15 Dec. 2005 Us Now: What Society Gains from Online Collaboration. Dir. Ivo Gormley. Prod. Hugh Hartford. Banyak Films, 2008. DVD.