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He's dead right, you know, mate

Bill Bishop's masterly Big Sort shows what this has been doing to Real World USA.


James Cherkoff

Very interesting Mr Earls...and we think the same thing is happening online?


Whether we choose to see it or not we do surround ourselves with like minded people. This is part of the flattening out of our society and economy. In order to stand out, rise to the top, or not just plain not be seen as a sheep we end up joining groups to be part of something, usually something we believe in to a fault, in order to gain status, recognition, ....the period thing (the name of it escapes me, right now).

I agree about it building intolerance but, it will come full circle ying yang.

How was Europe formed anyway?


Yes, it IS happening online: think of the whole "friending" "Follow" "block" behaviours of the social web...

Actually I tink it's a classic collision of human nature and the man-made environment: historically, we haven't been able to do this so completely but the web (and modern USA) make it eminently possible.

James Cherkoff

So when we circle the wagons with people we trust, we are actually just shutting ourselves off from the world?


It's not just about surrounding ourselves with people we "trust". It seems to me to be about choosing to live more and more of our lives - both analog and digital - inside access-controlled, technologically-mediated spaces, where the opportunities for random encounters (both good and bad) with people who are different from ourselves are all but completely engineered out. It's a response to fear and uncertainty, I'm sure, but it's also a cowardly, retrograde response - thinly disguised as "personal choice".

I'm truly worried that we risk retreating from being true "citizens" of the world and are becoming instead a kind of narrow-minded digital peasantry, being whipped up into online mobs and waving our electronic pitchforks at anyone who looks, thinks or tweets differently than ourselves. Citizenship, to me at least, implies an immersive existence within a cosmopolitan, creative, diverse, stimulating, noisy, dirty and, of course, sometimes disturbing and scary environment. An environment where the "other" is always around the next corner, to confront and challenge our assumptions about what being a human means.

This stimulus is what has driven our human culture forward over the past 10,000 years. Villages are safe and secure - conservative, predictable little hamlets of sameness where nothing ever changes and everyone looks and thinks the same. We lived as feudal peasants in villages for hundreds of thousands of years before the great creative and democratising power of the city catapulted humanity forward into the modern, civilised era. It's a cliché, perhaps, but it's also not a coincidence that the very word "civilization" originally meant "city-dweller". Cities aren't just big villages. They are a different organism, with different rules.

This interplay of diversity and difference and the challenge of constantly being forced to negotiate and renegotiate our definitions of ourselves and our culture is, I think, something to be embraced, not to be shunned and shut out with earbuds and iPods and gated communities that wrap people inside a controlled, comforting, technologically-mediated and wholly self-referential bubble.

Why is it that people with creative or innovative streaks in their character have always been drawn to great cities like London & New York as places in which they can express and expand their creativity? I'd argue that it's precisely because they seek out difference and diversity and the tolerance and stimulus that this brings.

The World Wide Web used to be just such a stimulating place - the very name itself implied the whole diversity of human thought and feeling and general weirdness. But nowadays we seem to have dropped the first two words completely. It's certainly a coincidence, but it also subtly reflects a desire to shrink the world into tiny, manageable, sanitised digital suburbs where everybody looks, talks and thinks just like you. That might sound good to some people, but it sounds like hell to me.

James Cherkoff

That's brilliant Ian. Thanks for taking the time to flesh this out.

It seems to me that people are attracted to Facebook et al because they feel safe. And they offer some control over the *dangers* of the web. However, it seems you are saying there is a price to that security.

That said people still have the choice to do as they wish.

And is it that surprising that people are replicating their offline lives online?

If Facebook are the gated communities, where are the cities?


It's interesting that people feel that things that happen inside Facebook are safe. It's clearly not the case, and once again the real world provides the comparison - the majority of our most feared crimes are perpetrated by people known to the victims. It's obvious really - once you worm your way inside a social circle, the defences are down and it's much easier for the unscrupulous to take advantage of this.

Ironically, Facebook provides almost the perfect tool for the smart criminal in the modern age. Infiltrate my network, or compromise one of my friends' accounts and you can harvest the kind of personal data that could really cause some damage. This actually happened to one of my friends only a couple of weeks ago - her account got phished and some guy suckered another friend into wiring him 500 quid on the basis of a sob story about getting robbed and having her phone and all her cards stolen. So much for safety...

On a different note, it's also interesting that, far from seeking to protect its users' safe, closed, comfortable networks, Facebook has a major financial interest in NOT keeping these networks closed and protected (whilst pretending the opposite). Today's TechCrunch talked about Facebook's changes to privacy settings to "encourage" users to make much more of their personal data visible to the world (i.e. the search engines) and so give the company a toehold in realtime search to compete with Twitter. And they are presenting this to users as a way of building one's community, whilst hiding the fact that they are actually compromising this safety and pimping their users' data right across the web.

Is Facebook a gated community? If so, it sounds to me like the gatekeeper's taking bribes to pass tipoffs the mob.

And where are the noisy, exciting, vibrant cities? Dunno, but the Luddite in me wants to say: "Offline, where they've always been." ;-)

James Cherkoff

It strikes me that for a while the web seemed to be a different place from the *real-world*. Increasingly that distinction is hard to make....

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