Every minute, YouTube users upload 48 hours of video and Facebook users share 684,478 pieces of content. “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection” explores the paradoxical sense of isolation that we experience despite having access to more information than ever before. The book’s author, Ethan Zuckerman, is the director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media. He presented his new book in Perugia with Jillian York, director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Italian journalist Luca De Biase moderated the discussion.
The panel started with an affirmation by De Biase: “You can have the channels of communication, but if people don’t understand [each other] it’s useless.”
Zuckerman has been addressing this since 1994, as one of the cofounders of Global Voices, an international network of bloggers that has more than 800 contributors and is published in 35 languages. He described the US media as an echo chamber that resonates within the same frequency all the time. For example, Hugo Barra was a Google employee who left the company to work at Xiaomi, a Chinese mobile developer. US technology publications were at a loss as to why he would make such a choice. The idea that his departure was motivated by the attractiveness of the Chinese company was inconceivable to them.
This echo chamber has its roots in the concept of homophily, a sociology theory that maintains that we tend to form bonds with people and groups similar to ourselves. The logical consequence is that we want to consume local and regional information and learn about people with similar ideology. The percentage of international news covered by the US press is declining. In 1970, it represented 35% of the content, but by 2008 just 12%.
“Despite the fact Google lets us access a massive amount of information, we usually don’t look for news about, for example, Nigeria or Ghana. We need to have a connection with those countries to search for them,” said Zuckerman. Maybe the Internet hasn’t introduced us to a different view of the world. We still see through the lense created by the media.
“I don’t like how the Internet works right now in terms of isolating people by their country” – Ethan Zuckerman
The most valuable thing we have is the power to change what we don’t like. “If we don’t like Google Glass we don’t have to use Google Glass; if we think that [there] should be more privacy online we can work for more privacy online. If we don’t like the tendency to connect with the people we already know, we can and we should rewire.”
By: Martín González