Weaving the network fabric
When I talk about the effects of internet and mobile communications as an infrastructure I try to point to the effects this is having off-line. My use of the internet since the late 80’s has always been about connecting with people. Nothing virtual about it. Our summer, which Elmine and I spent in Canada, was again proof of the fabric that gets woven thanks to the internet collapsing obstacles of distance in space and time to 0.
In the woods with Chris, and cooking with Boris (photo Elmine)
Gerrit Eicker a while ago asked me to respond his statement that there is no global village, just many globalized villages. (I’d add ‘and globally oriented villagers’). The short answer is I agree, and I don’t see it as the balkanization of the internet or as a threat either. My personal global village gives me neighbours I would not have had in any other way, without taking away me being rooted in a local community. Globalized villagers, as I tried to convey in my recent talk at Reboot, are people who have seen their circle of empathy enlarged to a global scope, which informs their local actions. It used to be nation states served as the middle man between the individual and global level and as a conduit for empathy, motivation, (as well as hate). The internet and mobile communications as infrastructure are taking out middle men left and right, and they are chipping away at the relevance of nation states in much the same way. Nation states are on the way out, I am sure (but it will be a long way).
Our trip to Canada (and the US) this summer was basically a tour of part of our globalized village.
Dinner with Jon, Raman, Cyprien and Renee, cycling with Roland and Simon
Canada, a place, a group of people
We had never been to Canada, yet we immediately felt at home.
Fellow globalized villagers, contacts and friendships originating in on-line interaction, followed by f2f meetings in Europe, have had an important role in finding our step in new cities and a new country for the past month. They formed catalysts into the rhythm and pace of Vancouver, introducing us into the local life. Within two days we started being part of those hanging out in coffee bars for conversations, spend a summer evening on the porch with neighbours enjoying a BBQ, doing our own cooking as well as ate at great little restaurants tourists wouldn’t find. Jon and Raman, Cyprien and Renee, as well as Roland, and Boris made us part of their daily lives in Vancouver, as did Nancy and her family in Seattle. On the other side of the continent, on Prince Edward Island, Robert and Robin, and Peter and Catherine did the same during our stay on their red island inviting us into their homes. Along the way we also met up with Andy, Lee and Sachi, walked in northern rainforests with Chris having conversations that were basically an exploration of shared values and notions, talked about the potential of globalized villagers to network themselves out of problems with Marc and Christine, had a first f2f meeting with Dave over dinner in Toronto, and (again) met up with Jon giving us an insider tour of Montreal and dining with some of his friends. Meeting all these friends, some for the first time, was the common thread through our trip for me, next to being a ‘regular’ tourist in some amazingly beautiful landscapes, three major cities and musea, and seeing various kinds of wildlife.
Photo fun with Nancy, drinking Grolsch with Lee and Sachi
Take it forward
Touring our globalized village, or at least the Canadian neighbourhood of it, (not surprisingly) turned out to be inspiring both personally and professionally, and will probably be felt in a lot of the stuff I will be thinking, reading and writing about in the coming 6 months. And I intend to make sure it will lead to some tangible collaboration with at least some of those we met this summer.
Dinner in Toronto with David, dinner party on PEI with Peter, Catherine, Rob and Robin.
Tags: canada, social networks, globalvillage, friends
What a trip! Thanks for making us a part of it Ton. It was great to see you guys and finally get my beer! 😉 Also, looking forward to an upcoming post about the Chumby! 🙂
great synthesis post!
I feel the same Ton – until recently my village was based on time – my oldest friends who live all over and place – the friends I have where I live.
But now…. It’s a source of wonderment that my village is in the world out there – also that so many of us have chosen the same group!
“(I’d add ‘and globally oriented villagers’). The short answer is I agree, and I don’t see it as the balkanization of the internet or as a threat either.”
I definitely agree to the addition as there’s no village without villagers: They have to want to group on a global scale to form (and leave) any kind of society. And (right now) I don’t see a threat as well.
But your picture of the “balkanization of the internet” might become (or already is?) the future of the Net: leading to good or bad depending on the tolerance and open-mindfulness of all of its villagers.
Following Luhmann’s systems theory, systems (like all of our smaller or bigger virtual villages – including all of their different neighbourhoods – we’re building daily) define themselves by discrimination. I’d say a special discrimination by functional and cultural knowledge regarding the Net.
The utopian hope that the Net brings mankind into greater harmony and understanding because of living, learning, and working in that one “global village” is naive in my opinion.
I fear that the Net might aggravate polarisation and segregation in a way that was never ever possible before:
Every small digital decision we make – like linking to a website, subscribing to a blog, commenting somewhere, adding a friend to our social network, categorizing email messages, using personalization algorithms,… – defines (each in a very small way) whom we associate with, what information we pay attention to, and finally: how our (personal?) village(s) looks like. We even communicate this proactivly to bring our discrimination to perfection.
And this is pretty fine, of course: It makes us more effective and more efficient in whatever we’re doing and aiming for. Every finely tuned filter focuses our attention and structures our communities.
But there remains this one small but critical problem: it’s the (even slight) bias. We prefer listing and talking to people similar to ourselves, ending up in ever more homogeneous communities, maybe unable to connect or communicate to others. A “nice” example of this is the maximum separation of liberal and conservative bloggers during the 2004 US election: Divided They Blog
Well. Let’s hope that our personal bias isn’t too strong. 😉
Smile! Gerrit – We speak Online.
So, you had fun? 😉
@Roland, Lee, Rob Glad you were part of it. Thanks!
@Tom Yes, we had lots of fun!
I completely agree in terms of bias in group forming and tendency to discrimination (in the neutral sense of the word), that that is at work in group forming on the internet. I do not think that is problematic as such, just how it is with our geographic villages and neighbourhoods too. (I don’t think there is any human dynamic that is inherently different online from offline)
There are differences of course too. It is much easier to find an extended group of like minded people when the pool of potential people is bigger. So on the internet for each interest a group can be found.
At the same time the facets on which you discriminate on the net are different from in the flesh. I befriended people on the net I would not have if I had met them f2f. Because our single shared interest that connects us is the ONLY thing that connects us. F2f humans connect on face value first and look for a ‘broader resemblance’ than is needed for online contacts.
The picture you draw becomes problematic when:
1) You think the people you know online are representative of all people online, or of all people in the world even.
2) When your online peer group, or your offline peer group for that matter, forms your only source of information
3) Your geographically dispersed online peer group replaces your local peer group, uprooting you in your local community
Ad 1) I don’t think so, in fact I never met anybody who thinks the subset of relationships they have on- or offline are a representative mix of the whole.
Ad 2) ‘Seggregated’ groups tend to radicalize, if there are no ‘reality checks’ with other groups or environments. Groupthinking your way into the Bay of Pigs, the radicalization of the news on the crowdsourced Korean Ohmynews.com before they brought in a number of journalists again, the credit crunch problems, thinking Barack Obama is a Muslim (and thinking that fact alone is bad ), etc all attest to that.
Part of being connected means it is possible and necessary to be critical of eachother too.
As a person who uses his online peer group as primary source of information (through RSS), it means I also had to develop a new skills: looking at the quality and diversity of my peer group as an information filter, their ‘filter-value’ so to speak. It means I garden my RSS list, adding and pruning.
Ad 3) Research shows that this hardly happens. In fact if you have lots of contacts online, you most likely have lots of offline contacts as well. If you are a hermit in your town, you are usually one in cyberspace too. We bring our personality to the net, and it stays that way. (This might change though if our very first peer group as a kid happens to be an on-line one, as a large piece of our character is determined by the niche or role we fill (because it is available) in our first peer group(s). But that is not the case with any human alive at this moment.)
Ton, the problems you describe are some of those that would match my worst-case-scenario: It’s missing personal reflection on social behaviour, social interaction, social attention etc. pp.
This has happened at any time and any place in history. I’d even call it a structural component of mankind and social systems.
What might happen now or in future is finally making it “perfect”: I’m not talking about the present. Not even the near future. Change takes time. Some decades, maybe.
To concretise my fear: People maybe won’t even realise that their focus narrows down from day to day while they are (if at all) “gardening their RSS lists, adding and pruning”. Without opening a discussion on “reality”, it might become extremely hard to do “reality checks” in future.
Smile! Gerrit – We speak Online.
Jarig? Tijd voor een (un)conference! (en een BBQ natuurlijk)
Vorig jaar organiseerden we op mijn verjaardag een BBQ waar we veel mensen uit onze on-line en off-line bekendenkring bij elkaar brachten. Dat was een prima feestje!Dit jaar wordt Elmine 30 op 30 augustus. Dat grijpen we aan als gelegenheid…