10.23.2005

No fear of homogeneous clusters

In last week's issue, Time magazine featured a piece in which it asked a handful of "the smartest people we know" about what the future holds. These people, from Malcolm Gladwell to Tim O'Reilly to David Brooks, were asked about technology, religion, science and politics. The questions about technology were most interesting for our purposes, and help to frame some big issues. Asked what innovation will most alter how we live in the next few years, the discussion turned to the Internet and how it affects communication. O'Reilly talked about how the Internet allows people to be as isolated as ever, but at the same time allows them to communicate more widely than ever. "I suspect most of us in this room maintain communication with a group that is far larger, far more geographically diverse than we ever would have known without technology," he says.

A further question about technology possibly locking us into "homogeneous clusters" was met by interesting discussion about the fact that finding others like yourself can be a good thing. Author Mark Dery mentioned gay kids in small town Oklahoma once had no choices; now they can connect with others. Gladwell said reaching out to such groups can actually enhance diversity because there are many different clusters: "It may be that in each of those groups, I'm finding people who are precisely like me, but there are 10 me's," he says.

Travel and the way it changes the way people think about place and where they are from also was discussed, and the panelists brought that idea back around to the discussion of the Internet and people's ability to stay in touch with and communicate with people in far-flung places. It seemed to further the discussion that runs through many of the posts here thus far, following the notion that you can do anything any where at almost any time. And that, as Gladwell and others say, is a good thing.

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