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|The Relationship Revolution - Page 7|
But we can't leave it to chance, says Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. "It's not enough to make the personal decision that you want a wider world," nor will the Internet necessarily become "a force to smooth out cultural differences." Last July, in his talk at T.E.D.—launched in 1996 as a conference that would bring together people "who seek a better understanding of the world"—Zuckerman ran through a series of sobering statistics suggesting that most of us end up in a "filter bubble" with similar kinds of people, and thus have little opportunity to observe and understand other cultures and ideas. Still, he's hopeful. He believes we're all "xenophiles" at heart—"people fascinated by the whole world, by things" other than our ordinary experience—but we can't just talk the talk. "We have to figure out how to rewire the systems that we have in place. We have to fix the media, we have to fix the Internet, we have to fix education, we have to fix our immigration polices."
Even more important, says Howard Rheingold, who now teaches Digital Journalism at Stanford University and Virtual Community and Social Media at the University of California, Berkeley, we must take responsibility for educating ourselves. Being part of a "smart mob" doesn't guarantee that you're a responsible participant or collaborator. Accumulating friends on Facebook doesn't mean that you necessarily understand how to get the most out of your network, know how to deploy attention productively, or are capable of "crap detection." Even digital natives who've grown up with social media need to learn these "21st-century literacies," the subject of Rheingold's next book.
"Will our grandchildren grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else?" asks Rheingold. "Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?" A lot is riding on how we collectively develop our relationship with the Internet. As Rheingold puts it, "the humanity or toxicity of next year's digital culture depends to a very large degree on what we know, learn, and teach each other."
Journalist Melinda Blau, who specializes in relationships and social trends, is the coauthor, with Karen L. Fingerman, of Consequential Strangers: Turning Everyday Encounters into Life-Changing Moments (Norton 2010) and the voice of the Consequential Strangers blog at www.consequentialstrangers.com. Follow her on Twitter via @melindablau. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or at www.psychotherapynetworker.org. Log in and you'll find the comment section on every page of the online Magazine section.
To read "Time's Person of the Year: You," go to www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1569514,00.html.
For an introduction to Facebook and social media, check out New York Times columnist David Pogue's July article "For Those Facebook Left Behind" at www.nytimes.com/2010/07/08/technology/personaltech/08pogue.html?_r=1&ref=david_pogue.
To gain a deeper understanding, read mashable.com, a popular blog devoted to news about social media, technology, and web culture.
To learn how to work with different social media tools, visit Howard Rheingold's "Social Media Laboratory" at http://socialmediaclassroom.com.
For more information about the online magazine shareable.net, see Neal Gorenflo's March blog "Ten Ways Our World Is Becoming More Shareable" at shareable.net/blog/10-ways-our-world-is-becoming-more-shareable.
Spend some time listening to assorted talks on the T.E.D. website www.ted.com to get a sense of this burgeoning movement. Devoted to "ideas worth spreading," T.E.D. itself is an Internet phenomenon. It's been rightfully called "a place to glimpse the future."