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Zuckerman on Xenophilia and bridging

2010 July 15

Ethan Zuckerman spoke at TED Global. Stephen Downes wrote about it earlier, and the BBC just posted an article about it.

Here’s the video from TED:

Ethan posted the text of his talk. Here are some choice quotes:

It’s data like this that’s leading me to conclude that the internet isn’t flattening the world the way Nicholas Negroponte thought it would. Instead, my fear is that it’s making us “imaginary cosmopolitans”. We think we’re getting a broad view of the world because it’s possible that our television, newspapers and internet could be giving us a vastly wider picture than was available for our parents or grandparents.

When we look at what’s actually happening, our worldview might actually be narrowing.

on filtering:

We tend to use two types of filters to manage the internet – search, which is great at telling us what we want to know, and social, which promises to tell us things that we don’t know we want to know. There’s a lot of people trying to engineer serendipity by taking advantage of the fact that not only are you on the internet, your friends are also on the internet. And if your friends – or just someone with similar interests – finds something that’s interesting, it might be a serendipitous discovery for you as well.

There’s just one problem with this method. Human beings are herd animals. Like birds of a feather, we flock together. And so what you see on a site like Reddit or Digg – or what links you get from your friends on Facebook or Twitter – is what the flock is seeing. The flock might help you find something that’s unexpected and helpful, but it’s not likely to find you something from halfway around the world.

This set my PLN radar pinging. The talk of crafting the personal learning network/environment, to harness network effects, etc… is the explicit construction of flock-powered echo chambers. We choose to include people whom we mostly agree with. Everybody gets a group hug. And we slowly shrink the subset of the world to which we pay attention.

on the power of bridges to connect different communities and flocks:

For a wider web, we need this third form of filtering – we need search, social, but we also need these shepherds to help us break out of our flocks and find different voices.

and

If we want a wider world, we need to celebrate, recognize and amplify the influence of these bridge figures.

And we need people to walk across these bridges.

and finally

How do we cultivate xenophiles, celebrate bridge builders and rewire the media so we’re experiencing a wide world and not just our flock?

Xenophilia. An affection for the unknown. The people that seek to connect different communities, cultures, flocks, etc… This is what’s needed – but not for some magic individuals to step up and take the role. We need to support and foster xenophilia in everyone. It’s the only way to break out of the insular withdrawal that results from flocking filtering.

from A wider world, a wider web: my TED Global Talk by Ethan Zuckerman