The Width of the World Web

When I started my blog I promised myself to share what I believe is positive, solutions and inspiring for others. This is sometimes challenging, as it is always easier to focus on problems and complain. Negativity seems to be particularly pertinent when it comes to technology.

Instead of a wide outlook on the web, the debate often takes a rather narrow approach, which we are quick to agree with. Hussein Derakhshan ‘the blogfather of Iran’, experienced after six years in jail in Tehran, that the web has narrowed – people rarely read more than a paragraph or 140 characters, and rather watch videos or photos. Before we used to connect through websites, blogs and hyperlinks. Today the web is no longer that wide because we use apps, with algorithms and advertisement that present us with tailored and biased feed.

We use Instagram, Viber, WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, and stay within a limited space of friends and followers liking and favouring each other’s posts. We no longer expose ourselves to challenging views and new sites, and we don’t even know what we might miss out on. Derakhshan has a point but l find it interesting to rather ask what makes people continue read or listen; switch on instead of off, zoom in instead of out. Although we are easily distracted, and the 140 characters needs to be well put and appealing for us to read beyond, we sometimes do.

We might have to (learn how to) navigate differently than before but the web is wide. Let me give one example. The other day, while doing tedious chores I watched a TED talk about cyber security recommended on their homepage, when it ended another one automatically followed – by Keren Elazari. This one caught my attention, afterwards I read the speaker’s bio, searched her twitter handle and added to my #tech list. When browsing her feed, I came across a tweet about a book she co-authored about women in tech. I added it to my to-read-note, and re-tweeted to a few friends I thought might be interested too. While TED might automatically generate talks according to my interests, I ended up seeing one I would not have found on my own and learn about an interesting book. For me, last years online has widened my outlook on global politics immensely; nowadays I listen to podcasts and read more and different news channels than before.

With social media we can connect and reconnect with people we otherwise would have left behind, or never interacted with in the first place.  This Caroline Webb reminds us about during the Tech Weekly Podcast about how apps are designed to be contagious, distract us from our work and consequently impact both our efficiency and decision-making. Webb emphasised that we can choose to use social media for purposes of what we find meaningful and important. Professor Sherry Turkel writes extensively about her concerns of how technology impact us, and explained to Swedish press that people prefer e-communication as it allows them to control what they say and avoid face-to-face interaction. In this way they only connect with people in a superficial way, and miss out on the intimacy and empathy real life meetings can entail. It is indeed an important reminder, but leave out the many real-life meetings people have thanks to contact initiated or maintained through technology.

While media such as Facebook enables contact with friends and acquaintances, Twitter provides the ‘Phone Directory’ of people whom we otherwise would not reach. I have for example been able to thank an author for a great book that I read, give a politician feedback on his speech, and panelists remarks one their debate (when I was not able to take the floor). By using their ‘handles’ (i.e. ’tagging’ their accounts) they receive a notification, and when they retweeted or replied I knew I reached them. We have the Phone Directory of almost anyone, and can connect by sending a public ’text message’ to various persons. If very high-level or famous, our messages may only reach their staff who manages their accounts, but we still have more chance to get our message across than we could before social media. To add, there is another dimension of using social media (that I won’t get into), that is ‘naming & shaming’ companies and service providers one is unhappy with, a publicity they fear and which therefore can be very effective.

What do you think? How wide is the world web?

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