In 1912, radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi declared, “The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.” Two years later a ridiculous war began, ultimately killing nine million Europeans.
via Wilson Quarterly:
As we enter an age of increased global connection, we are also entering an age of increasing participation. The billions of people worldwide who access the Internet via computers and mobile phones have access to information far beyond their borders, and the opportunity to contribute their own insights and opinions. It should be no surprise that we are experiencing a concomitant rise in mystery that parallels the increases in connection.
Zuckerman takes us from the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran to the ongoing Arab Spring, and the different tools of communication that helped us navigate (and get lost or miss) it all.
A central paradox of this connected age is that while it’s easier than ever to share information and perspectives from different parts of the world, we may be encountering a narrower picture of the world than we did in less connected days.
Why worry about what’s covered in newspapers and television when it’s possible to read firsthand accounts from Syria or Sierra Leone? Research suggests that we rarely read such accounts. My studies of online news consumption show that 95 percent of the news consumed by American Internet users is published in the United States.
Increased connection doesn’t necessary lead to increased understanding, he says. But at the same time, “there’s never been a tool as powerful as the Internet for building new ties (and maintaining existing ones) across distant borders.”
FJP: Worth noticing: the reader comments. One laughs at the notion of a “serendipity engine” (which is the beside the point entirely) and another says that “our ability to find and disseminate information has surpassed our ability to understand.” That’s worth thinking about.
Zuckerman encourages us to “see broadly,” which isn’t a new idea. A well-known danger of the build-it-yourself media diet is that we tend to fill it with things we know we want to know about, and miss the things that might do us some good. So sure, developers can race to build tools that will help us discover the people and issues in hidden corners of the world, and we can keep at improving our consumption diets.
But a vital prerequisite to any such consumption modification is for us to acquire a mental disposition that requires a bit of practice. Perhaps Zuckerman’s most important point:
The challenge for anyone who wants to decipher the mysteries of a connected age is to understand how the Internet does, and does not, connect us. Only then can we find ways to make online connection more common and more powerful.
Outside the media world, who really thinks about that question? It’s worth asking, just to open discussion, and might give us a clue about how to understand all the stuff we’re so good at consuming and disseminating. To achieve success in any endeavor, we generally identify our intent first. So why not the same of the internet?
Here’s the PDF of his article. Print it out, put it in your pocket, put it on your ipad and re-read it a few times. Talk to people about it. We’ll keep thinking about it too.—Jihii
P.S.: Global Voices on Tumblr.
When Rebecca MacKinnon and I started Global Voices in 2004… we believed that the rise of citizen media meant that many more voices could become part of the media dialog, and that international news outlets would look to the people directly affected by events for their accounts and perspectives. That’s proven true – for the past month, our newsroom has been flooded with requests from media outlets around the world to unpack and comment on the events in Tunisia, and especially those in Egypt.
Where Global Voices has been vastly less successful is in achieving another of our goals: shifting the global media agenda to be more globally inclusive. In other words, we’re very good at getting attention to different commentators and observers of events that major media outlets have decided to pay attention to. But we’ve had little to no luck shifting attention to stories that fail to register on the media’s radar screen, even when we’re able to provide on-the-ground commentary and eyewitness accounts.
New media technologies – not just online media, but satellite television, which has been critically important in covering (and perhaps inspiring) protests in Egypt and Tunisia – offer the promise of covering breaking events in much greater depth than in a broadcast world. I’m very grateful for Al Jazeera English’s thorough, ongoing coverage of events in Egypt, and for my friend Andy Carvin’s relentless curation of Twitter, following protests in Tunisia and Egypt. But I worry that these technologies aren’t broadening the set of stories covered internationally – in many cases, we seem to be covering a narrower range of stories than in years past, though in far greater depth.