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April 26, 2008

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Thanks for this post, Michele. It is a term I am not familiar with, so I see now what you are getting at. I'm trying desperately not to agree with you so that I can prove I do not have a bad case of homophily!

But I certainly get the point about ignoring people who are not into social media which is what I find myself doing more and more - a timely reminder to look at how I see the world.

I've been thinking lately about what society is doing to help people connect to the internet. If internet access was free to everyone, that would lift a real barrier to the web 2.0 world. I haven't heard very much about ensuring that broadband access is available to all, although 5 years ago it seemed like that was the big plan (in my country at least--Canada).

There are large numbers of people in Canada and the US who cannot afford to have access to the internet. As you mentioned the voices we aren't hearing as much come from marginalized communities--we need to hear their voices. If we can't tackle internet access in our own countries, how can we tackle internet access for those who can't afford it in the rest of the world? Anyone know how to make this happen?

Hi Michele, I found us sharing space on Ethan's blog (serendipity?) and find this whole growing discussion very interesting. Thanks for sharing all these great thoughts.

The boundaries of disciplines are fuzzy, as are the boundaries of cultures (and even ethnic identities), political views, or any way we try to classify people. Yet we let these constructs decide for us who's in and who's out, and what's interesting and what's not. We're not taught how not to know things, or how to manage our own limited and imperfect knowledge.

I don't know if you read my own homophily post, but I tried to illustrate that we've got to recognize that we don't know what we thought we did. Homophily is what keeps us from that revelation.

I've got a lot more thinking to do about this, for myself personally and --as an expat knowledge worker-- professionally.

I have a fairly diverse feed reader, but I will say that I have a tendency to unsubscribe to people who are consistently contrary to my beliefs and values. And I never talk to them, just lurk.

I'm better about seeking out and intentionally interacting with difference offline, but this is certainly making me reconsider how I am doing this. My goal has been to greet difference with curiosity, and to seek understanding.

Really though, am I being authentic if in the privacy of my own feed reader I am behaving differently?

As usual, you are provoking deep reflection.....

Michele:
Thanks for this very thoughtful and self-aware exploration of the homophily issue. You gave me a lot to ponder.

For me personally, I need a particular question or project to go looking outside my own silo. The world is too diverse and fascinating to incorporate into my RSS subscriptions. That means my exposure to other cultural assumptions, outlooks, frames of reference etc. - would occur when I'm searching the web, not subscribing to feeds. Likewise, most of the page reads on my blog are done by searchers from around the globe, not feed subscribers. My readers will challenge their preconceptions by exposing themselves my culturally confined content, such as it is. That tells me that blogs are a tool that has its limitations like cameras, cars and chain saws. Automobiles deprive us of the "airplane experience", the "passenger railroad milieu", the "pedestrian mindset" and the "bicycle point of view". The "automobile divide" is as pervasive as those digital and social-economic class divides.

It seems to me that breaking out of cultural confines takes a large staff and a big budget. I don't see how an individual can get into the mindset of people from Uruguay, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan. That's the work of globe watchers like the the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the CIA. The amount of media generated by other cultures is staggering. The lack of access in other cultures to digital realms does not characterize the amount of radio, TV and print content that gets generated throughout the world. There also lots of gathering of narratives, first person interviews and other kinds of field work in order to understand conflicting, elusive and subtle frames of reference. Even with lots of resources, the job gets done poorly. One of my favorite books on this topic is "Imperial Hubris", written by the CIA staffer in charge of empathizing with Osama Bin Laden's huge following in the Muslim world. The top echelon in the CIA and Bush administration could not think outside their silos and grasp the profound significance of Bin Laden's heroics for many more than the disenfranchised Muslim youth.

If what I'm saying gets taken wrong, it will sound like I'm defending bigotry, maintaining cultural stereotypes and letting us off the hook to understand others. I'm in favor of challenging our preconceptions, like you are, when we have a particular issue or question to organize a search.

Another area where homophily is politics. I don't live in the USA, but democrats and republicans don't really talk to each other about politics, I believe. The blogosphere since to be very liberal, almost to the point that you can't believe there are conservatives in the USA.

Michele,
Thanks so much for your great posts about this phenomenon. Reading them reminded me of an article by Tim Wise titled "White Privilege: Swimming in Racial Preference" (http://www.tolerance.org/news/article_tol.jsp?id=722). In it, Wise argues that white privilege for white people is like water for fish: neither we nor they realize how completely it surrounds us or how much it influences what we do every minute of every day.

It sounds like that is what you're getting at. We don't even realize the people we're not hearing from nor the privilege attached to being able to navigate social media, period. I've seen it in myself for sure--hanging out with people who think (and largely look) like me has made my beliefs even more entrenched, to the point where even if I do disagree, I rarely mention it. *sigh* That wasn't my intention, but it looks like that is what is happening.

Obviously, realizing it is a good first step, but I'm excited to see your future posts (hopefully) offering some suggestions to start breaking out of it.

Elisa--white privilege is exactly what I'm talking about. I also think that there's male privilege and class privilege and "developed country" privilege--issues that are also at work with social media.

I'm not sure what all the answers are. I know that in my personal practice, I'm trying to bring social media to as many disenfranchised people as possible because I believe that these are the tools of empowerment and collective action. I think this is an issue that deserves much more conversation and recognition, though, as I don't believe that we'll achieve the true power of the social web until we figure this out.

Thanks for forcing me to be more explicit, Elisa.

Well Michele, I think you’ve got it right when you say, “the first step in changing this (homophily) lies in recognising that we're doing it”.

The Internet permits asynchronous and synchronous chat, on a huge scale. This interactive facility was not possible on such a scale before. It permits openness in these different chat forms that never existed before it came into being. What other means of communication would have given access to millions, nay billions of people, whether or not they suffer from homophily? The Internet no more makes me dumb than the telephone does, or the crystal set did way back in the days when I used to make and listen to these things.

People use tools to learn and communicate and do all sorts of useful deeds as well as destructive things with them in their lives. There’s an old saying “poor craftsmen blame their tools”. The one important factor in all this is me, I’m happy to say. I am in control of my dumbness, not the telephone nor the Internet – not even the people I meet. Only I can do something about any tendency I have to homophily if that affects my dumbness. And I don’t think that I am all that different from the billions of people who have access to the Internet. They too have opportunities to control how dumb they become.

One thing the Internet has done for me though - I’ve learnt to spell ‘dumber’, so I must be less dumb now than I was when I first read your original blog :-)

On a more practical note, Michele, you spoke of the number of people who have online capability and reflected on the actual proportion of those who are participating in blogging.

If you are not familiar with the work done by B. Nonnecke and J. Preece, you may be interested to look at some of the amazing research and writing they’ve done on the phenomenon known as lurking.

Lurkers are widely known to make up over 90% of most online groups. This has significant implications when working with online learning communities. Non-active lurkers are those with online capability but who do not log on. They tend to make up the largest proportion of all members in an online group and are in fact non-participants and certainly “not part of the conversations”. I suspect that the proportion of people who are accessing blog sites, including social networking service sites, would be very small.

I’m always amazed at how few comments are posted against even popular topics blogged on the Web. Considering the millions of people throughout the world who have online capability, the number of those who participate by posting comments is electron-microscopically small. I know in my own workplace (I work alongside several hundred like-minded people - homophily is rife) there are very few if any who would do what I did to put this comment on your blog site.

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