I watched a very interesting video last night by Ethan Zuckerman who runs a site called 'Global Voices'.
He labeled the talk 'Building a Better Gatekeeper' and explores the idea that as we get more and more of an internet culture we can find ourselves 'flocking together', or in other words surrounding ourselves with like minded people, and information.
I know this isn't really something new, people having been doing it for years, I know for myself apart from work I almost never socialize with people who aren't from Christian circles. This is largely a result of my up bringing and beliefs, I like hanging out with Christians, I know how to relate to them, they know how to relate to me. I even pride myself on the diversity of my friends given the different streams of christianity they represent.
I'm probably not going to die because I don't talk to many homosexual gothic satanists, but perhaps my lack of diversity in my relationships could (has?) lead to me misunderstanding the world around me?
Likewise as a New Zealander I often (even if only in my own head) criticize America for it's inward focus yet how much to I know about Kenya or Uzbekistan (Does such a place actually exist?)
How often do we find that exactly what frustrates us in others is actually present in ourselves?
I remember watching Bride and Prejudice a while a go (Yes ladies I do watch chick flicks), I remember it because for the first time I understood Darcy's point of view from the original story. For those that don't know in the original story, Mr Darcy advises his friend Bingley not to marry a girl he has met in the country. He and She are of different classes, different cultures, different lives Marrying her would be a disaster. (not in those words but I think that's the general idea)
Naturally, As a modern westerner of the 21st century I thought 'What a biggot'!
However when I saw (in Bride and Prejudice) a young american man fall in love with a girl from india I thought all those same things. I could just see myself telling my friend "What do you think you are doing? Your culture is different, your religion is different, your family is different. Marrying this girl will not work!
Same story different place, but it brings it more alive to me...
I think that same kind of reaction was caused when I watch Ethan's talk, I was convicted of my own tenancy to return to the familar, to surround myself with an echo chamber, people and information that reinforces rather than challenges my thinking, my belief, my interests.
If you are anything like me, you will vaguely remember the first time you drank coffee, I don't remember where I was or why I tasted it BUT it tasted horrible.
Now I love little better than a good cup of espresso, what's changed? The coffee? No, it's me. What was once disgusting has become a treat.
Coffee may not be a good example given its addictive nature, and less that positive side effects but the idea stands:) Just like learning to eat vegetables when you were young. They can go from a chore to a joy.*
A Balanced Diet
Ethan talks about the Broccoli vs Chocolate Cake problem. Even people who really like broccoli would probably prefer a nice piece cake over a head of broccoli. We do the same kinds of things with our information needs, we read the 'chocolate cake' blogs, news stories, and friendships. Now there's nothing wrong with chocolate cake, but if we just eat cake we would probably find we are lacking a balanced diet.
Is it the same for our information/interests/relationships? Do we need to work on developing a more balanced diet? If we do make the effort, perhaps we'll find that we really enjoy the new things we learn and new ideas we encounter? Even if it takes a little while prehaps we can add a whole new joy to our lives? Too optimistic? I don't know.
Regardless what I have said, I strongly suggest you head over to http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/616 and have a listen. Perhaps you'll be convicted too.
* However, I am still trying to learn to enjoy raw tomato at age 24.