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Wednesday, February 04, 2004
 


"Feel the fear and do it anyway."
- Susan Jeffers (via D. Gurteen)


What do you think? []  links to this post    11:57:31 AM  
Weak ties strengthen innovation

Although it doesn't deal with politics, this item connects strongly with the post below. Guess what, turns out cultivating diversity in your network is good for you if you're seeking to innovate. This is actually the insight that guided a good part of my thesis work, in which I asked, "what kinds of web technologies would best enable innovators to create and cultivate weak ties?"

What do you think? []  links to this post    11:49:49 AM  
Dean, the net, and echo chambers

Clay's recent post-mortem on Howard Dean emphasises one of my favorite themes, collective delusion. Required reading for anyone who wants to change the world through a group effort.

"The size of the MeetUp in NYC was as much a testament to MeetUp as to Dean ó itís a wonderful tool for turning interest into attendance, but it created a false sense of broad enthusiasm. Prior to MeetUp, getting 300 people to turn out would have meant a huge and latent population of Dean supporters, but because MeetUp makes it easier to gather the faithful, it confused us into thinking that we were seeing an increase in Dean support, rather than a decrease in the hassle of organizing groups. [...]

You can ring doorbells and carry signs and donate and stay up til 4 in the morning talking with fellow believers about the sorry state of politics today, and you still only get one vote. If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone elseís mind."

Granted, the net and social software enable ridiculously easy group-forming, but in most cases, if you want to see real effects in the world at large your group has to expand to include many, many people - especially in an election setting.

Retrospectively, Deanspace comes across as having been an echo chamber. No one is used to having so much supportive conversation flying around them, as these people were experiencing. Their fundamental mistake was to think that the exalted atmosphere they were breathing resulted from a generalized enthusiasm rather than from the newly lowered cost of communication with like minds. I'm sure the mistake will be made again by other groups, and I'm wary of falling prey to it myself.

So does the net really trap us inside echo chambers, or merely enable (and tempt) us to get inside? How easy (or hard) is it to encounter discourse that challenges our beliefs?

You know what? My overall feeling is that the net doesn't really have that much to do with it. Online we use technological filters; offline we use behavioral and cognitive filters. What happens to you, online or off, mostly depends on your personal dispositions.

If you want to read more about the topic, here are links to a few pieces on echo chambers and the Net that I've been collecting over the past week. They make different but equally interesting points.
  • Cass Sunstein, in "MyUniversity.com?" (pdf): "Unanticipated encounters, involving topics and points of view that people have not sought out and perhaps find quite irritating, are central to education, democracy, and even to freedom itself."
  • Steven Johnson: "The reason we have so many filters and personalization tools is because the web has created a veritable Cambrian explosion of diversity, funneled directly to your home -- social, political, sexual, ethical, you name it." (don't miss this comment)
  • Kevin Werbach: "Communities overlap."
  • Kaye Trammell: "It is my firm belief, & something that I am empirically testing, that the more exposure you have to a blog the more likely you are to identify with the blogger. This identification can serve as the "sneak attack" that Ms. Kramer hasn't thought about."
  • and Rebecca Blood, who gave (in my opinion) the best keynote at BlogTalk one: "We can make it a point not to rely on those who think like we do--but to find those who think about the same things from another angle. It can take time. Breaking out of our usual round of sources can take a substantial time investment. And there is little that is less comfortable than challenging our own assumptions and beliefs."
If I had time, I'd try and brew you a nice, tight essay out of all this. Hmm. Maybe I will.

What do you think? []  links to this post    11:40:51 AM  
My slides online

I've put a few recent sets of presentation slides online, including those from yesterday's talk: Sébastien Paquet's presentation slides. (Apologies for the large size of the files.)

What do you think? []  links to this post    9:52:04 AM  


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