CC: The Accidental Virtual Community

I can’t begin to guess how many times I’ve complained when someone with my e-mail address would forward something silly to me and a few hundred friends – with all of our names exposed in the CC – only to have half a dozen people hit “reply-all” instead of responding directly to her. (Admittedly, occasionally a person on the list might find that the forward was a scam and link everyone to snopes before it spread any further.)

However, my latest experience sheds a new perspective on this accidental virtual community phenomenon.

I think it was the Christmas before last, my girlfriend bought me a certificate for a massage. While chatting with the masseuse, it turned out we had a couple of common interests that might lead to a possible business relationship in the future. That, and she was just a really wonderful person. Before I left, we exchange e-mail addresses and later made a connection on MySpace. From there, we rarely communicated.

I’ve been offline a lot lately due to moving. I still don’t have Internet access at home. Last night, I took my laptop down to the pool area where the complex provides free wireless access. I checked the one e-mail account that I never access from work and found a huge thread burning.

I’d gotten one of the previously-mentioned e-mails (band promotion) from my one time masseuse some time in the past. One of the other recipients on the e-mail replied to all to inform us that our friend and masseuse was in an accident. She was the victim of a hit and run while riding her bike. She went into surgery with lots of cuts and bruises and a fractured skull.

How else could any one of us know how to contact so many people that knew and cared about this person? One by one, these people who knew her would respond to the list either with updates on her condition or with stories about how they know her and why they care about her. Slowly, this group of disconnected people became a community with something in common.

She’s out of the hospital now and is slowly healing up at home. I don’t think she knows about the outpouring of love and concern attached to an e-mail promoting one of her favorite bands. When she gets on her feet again – and in front of a monitor – it will all be waiting there in her inbox.