This is the title of the opening theoretical chapter of Francesca Comunello’s edited book “Networked Sociability and Individualism: Technology for Personal and Professional Relationships“. The chapter is the product of my collaboration with my former PhD student, Robert Bruno, now Assistant Professor of Communication at Missouri State University. Our contribution raises a rather simple question: given the emphasis social media puts on individuality and creativity, how do Wikis and especially Wikipedia, which are known for their “communitarian” and “egalitarian” ideology, handle individual voice and biases? Our answer is: through tenuous equilibrium between individual motivators and functional constraints, through ambiguity, and through an adhocratic social structure. In the abstract we state:
This chapter discusses the emergence of social media, especially wiki environments, as collaborative knowledge tools that function within a given set of individualistic and community-oriented cultural and functional constraints. The chapter provides the reader with an understanding of wiki social functions and technical capabilities and of the main value and cultural promises associated with them. It also examines the social and knowledge challenges they create and their likely impact on knowledge production in an individual and community setting. One main conclusion of the chapter is that wiki technologies need to be understood not as an overcoming of the tension between individualism and community, but as a product of their conflict, which they epitomize.