ethan zuckerman – imaginary cosmopolitanism

ethan zuckerman

a first encounter with Ethan:

TedGlobal 2010, July: listening to global voices
imaginary cosmopolitanism
Sure, the web connects the globe, but most of us end up hearing mainly from people just like ourselves. Blogger and technologist Ethan Zuckerman wants to help share the stories of the whole wide world. He talks about clever strategies to open up your Twitter world and read the news in languages you don’t even know.
interesting problems of the world are global in scale and scope, they require global conversations to get to global solutions.
yahon – 150000 volunteers, translate 100 articles a day and put on line for free,
jon ley – if there’s one thing i can do is start translating so these people can communicate better.
400 mill internet users in china – more than anywhere
so where are the american translaters?
middle east editor for global voices
 – she has to try to get you out of your normal orbit.. she’s a dj, skilled human curator, make a selection and push people forward.
internet makes it easier for dj’s. people to tell you what to read, etc.
afrigadget blog – pretty much his fav blog
his blog
bridge figure – white african – he’s knows two worlds
 After that.. hard to say his name without tagging on..
hospitality oikos cosmo
find/follow his work/insight/wisdom/vision:

his site:

ethan zuckermans site
from his about page:
I direct the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and teach at MIT’s Media Lab. I’m the author of “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection”, published by W. W. Norton in June 2013. I’m the co-founder of global blogging community Global Voices, and I work with social change nonprofit organizations around the world. I’m an alumnus of the Berkman Center at Harvard, Geekcorps and Tripod. – See more at:

global voices site:

we have to figure out a way to rewire the systems we have

ways of creating serendipity

celebrate bridge figures

cultivate xenophiles

Ethan is on the board of directors for ushahidi
digging into more – global voices – thinking via this site
a few posts from the past….

4 questions about civic media:
moving to mit to seek answers
1) How do we map and understand media ecosystems?
2) How do we help marginal and rarely-heard voices find an audience?”
3) How do we encourage productive participation?
4) How do we help communities annotate physical spaces? How do we make civic maps?  

a video in his post.. pushing us past our sheltered thinking..


what a great video in Ethan’s latest post:
fighting the evil forces of apathy

The end result of the space:
connectivity and the membership policy is that many of Kenya’s best and brightest young geeks can be found at the iHub on any given day. This helps explain why there’s also a crowd of expats – the iHub has become a pilgrimage stop for people hoping to understand the future of information technology in Kenya, and in the developing world as a whole.

They’re separated physically, but Facebook – which most Kenyans access through their phones, allows them to stay in close touch. Daudi tells me aboutGhetto Radio, a station that’s built a youth audience around the idea of being an “underground” station… though it’s probably the most popular station for its target demographic. “They run polls on Facebook and get thousands of responses. Lots of the folks responding can’t actually hear the station.”

Given the richness of the conversation at the iHub, it’s not always the easiest place to get work done. Erik tells me he spends two days a week working from home in the hopes of getting grantwriting and other focused activity done. Limo Taboi is based in the quietest corner of iHub and exudes a sense of calm amd focus that creates a cone of silence around him and his laptop.

it’s exciting to think that there’s a movement in different corners of the continent to mobilize youth around the idea that they can and should have a voice in politics.

iHub makes sense because it’s the physical manifestation of the creative collaboration that took Ushahidi from idea to project to platform within months. I had to go to Nairobi before I really got it.


feb 26

Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, and a principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab. He is the Keynote Speaker for the 2013 Digital Media & Learning Conference: “Democratic Futures: Mobilizing Voices, and Remixing Youth Participation.” His research focuses on the distribution of attention in mainstream and new media, the use of technology for international development, and the use of new media technologies by activists. With Rebecca MacKinnon, Ethan co-founded international blogging community Global Voices. Through Global Voices and through the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where he served as a researcher and fellow for eight years, Ethan is active in efforts to promote freedom of expression and fight censorship in online spaces. You can follow his thoughts at and on Twitter at @EthanZ.


recent interview –


dml2013 keynote:

and his reflection of keynote...



But this tendency to flock may be keeping us from finding the information we need,” and the tools we’ve built for the Internet only enhance our flocking bias.

“Creativity is an import-export business,” he said, the result of a cross-pollination of ideas and cultures that compels people to reflect on their assumptions. Those who are open to diversity and cognitive border-crossings, explained Zuckerman, “are at high risk of having good ideas.”

Zuckerman believes that change is possible. “If we don’t like how the Internet works now, we can fix it.” He recommended, for example, his own Berkman project called Global Voices, which shares online content from around the world. “It’s incumbent on us not to be satisfied with our tools,” and to build new ones that correct for our blind spots, he said.

Citing an example from “Rewire,” Weinberger pointed to the urban planner Jane Jacobs, who championed a style of city design “to engineer encounters and engagement” in ways that promote diverse communities. “I certainly favor structuring serendipity,” said Weinberger.

and ahh. .. his book


book links to amazon

his talk at the Berkman center on Rewire:

23 min – how to build better tools for connecting

24 – not sure if i want my friends pre-filtering for me.. the tools of social search may be driving us into the same circles

26 – creative is an import/export business. thieves.

27:30 – how to take advantage of incredible cognitive diversity

28 – we could have an alternative:

a conversation of what we want

if we don’t like how the internet works – we can fix it

30 – how do you track your own behavior

we’ve gotten so good at tracking our bodies – but not our minds…

cognitive tracking

follow bias

41 – we live in an era where we don’t need to have close ties – as far as what used to force us to be close

44 – what does it mean to make diverse ties with others.. that let’s you care enough about them to tie you over

47 – what sort of ties do we need now?

53 – we don’t know what connects – we guess at what connects

59 – quality journalism is about engineering empathy – connecting with someone you wouldn’t ordinarily connect with

1:00 – david’s initial comment/sentiment – man…

1:06 – serendipity – ed to cultivate desire – other is something we do – interest – in things we had no idea we were interested in

1:08 – structured serendipity will just look like noise, unless something is mixed in – empathy not enough – has to have a quality of great journalism or art of ….. we need paul simon-ish bridge

1:09:45 – ethan – end of book – we can do many things for you – but we can’t create desire – curation/search/social – to perhaps serendipity – taking you somewhere out of what you know and what you’ve encountered..

[so – perhaps curiosity – in the city – as the day…?]

1:11:49 – perhaps it’s the word – engineering – that is tripping us up


connection (love) between Ethan and David is of great insight


notes from book:

kindle amazon of rewire

It is hardly possible to overstate the value in the present state of human improvement of placing human beings in contact with other persons dissimilar to themselves, and with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. —John Stuart Mill

The 1979 revolution took intelligence agencies by surprise because it was born in mosques and homes, not in palaces or barracks.

Looking for secrets—the missing information in systems we understand—we can easily glide past mysteries, events that make sense only when we understand how systems have changed.

We all need ways to access perspectives from other parts of the world, to listen to opinions that diverge from our preconceptions, and to pay attention to the unexpected and unfamiliar

They didn’t pay attention to the story until it was so huge and in their face, they couldn’t ignore it anymore.

Our challenge is not access to information; it is the challenge of paying attention.

nationality: human

We must begin to understand ourselves not just as citizens of a state or a nation but also as citizens of the world

We are less likely to find our connections to the unfamiliar—the infectious and the inspirational—in the physical world. We will likely find them on the screen.

while one of the great promises of the Internet is that we might encounter anything online, in practice much of what we encounter comes from much closer to home.

The Internet will not magically turn us into digital cosmopolitans; if we want to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of connection, we have to take responsibility for shaping the tools we use to encounter the world.

Interviewed in 1912, the radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi declared, “The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.

via @hrheingold

believing that people can use technology to build a world that’s more just, fair, and inclusive isn’t merely defensible. It’s practically a moral imperative.
If the global flow of atoms is constrained by trade restrictions and by taste, and the flow of people by employment opportunities and immigration laws, the flow of information is constrained by our interest and attention.
Tripod’s readers weren’t interested in the articles we’d carefully crafted for them. They were coming to explore thousands of topics we knew nothing about:

Being able to find exactly what you wanted to know invites you to question authority figures—editors, educators, doctors—who argue there are topics you need to know beyond those you want to explore.

global voices

We curate, searching through the vastness of participatory content to find the bits that illuminate issues, concerns, and lives in other parts of the world. We translate, opening a conversation beyond its linguistic borders. And we contextualize, explaining what events mean to people on the ground and what they might mean to you.

If we want digital connection to increase human connection, we need to experiment.

Xenophiles, lovers of the unfamiliar, are people who find inspiration and creative energy in the vast diversity of the world.

Granovetter speculates, “The more local bridges (per person?) in a community and the greater their degree, the more cohesive the community and the more capable of acting in consort.

Lots of friends who have access to the same information and opportunities are less helpful than a few friends who can connect you to people and ideas outside your ordinary orbit.

As we think about rewiring the Internet to encourage connection, we need to think about how to build spaces and institutions that help bridge figures and xenophiles.

more on matt

Matt recalled, “I was beginning to realize that dancing in front of exotic backgrounds was a thin gimmick. I’d found what I should’ve been doing all along. I should have been dancing with other people.

Cities provide an infrastructure that should enable serendipity.

urban planner David Walters observes, they’re designed to help individuals linger and mix: “Casual encounters in shared spaces are the heart of community life, and if urban spaces are poorly designed, people will hurry through them as quickly as possible.

to minimize isolation. Walkable cities make it harder for you to isolate yourself in your home or your car, and easier to interact in public spaces. In the process, they present residents with a trade-off—it’s convenient to be able to park your car outside your home, but walkable cities are suspicious of too much convenience.

her celebration of street life, “the ballet of the good city sidewalk,” Jacobs emphasizes the importance of using the same spaces for diverse purposes.

bubbles are comfortable, comforting, and convenient; they give us a great deal of control and insulate us from surprise. They’re cars, not public transit or busy sidewalks.

Rather than calculating the shortest path between two points, as Google Maps usually does, Serendipitor prescribes a meandering path that will get you to your destination at the appointed time, but via a route that no human would ever rationally select.

More an art piece than a practical application, Serendipitor is a useful provocation that if we’ve forgotten how to wander, we could always develop software to help us go astray.

One popular method for calculating this is a technique called “cosine similarity.

Page tells us, “Even if we were to accept the claim that IQ tests, Scholastic Aptitude Tests scores, and college grades predict individual problem-solving ability, they may not be as important in determining a person’s potential contribution as a problem solver as would be measures of how differently that person thinks.

Primary and secondary schools might focus on ways that students could connect with different groups of people in their local communities, embracing students and community members who are best positioned to bridge and translate between cultures and to encourage xenophilia as a core skill. Schools would be smart to mainstream study abroad programs.

There’s an incredible opportunity to create tools that help people move beyond search and social modes of discovery and increase the chances of serendipity.


recommended for – rewiring for interconnectedness


imaginary cosmo


oct 2013:

dabeli – journalism – giving people info – that they can’t do anything with – learned helplessness

pointalist approach – how can i help by giving a single loan of kiva, a version of citizenship

11:30 –

there’s a whole rhetoric around the idea that youth are disengaged that they’re not involved.. they’re not apathetic, actually they’re utterly desperate to have an impact. but they don’t think they’re going to have an impact through the institutions through which we believe they should have an impact.

this is where we need media to help.. say –  if you want to have an impact on society, we have to figure out a way for you to be involved.. – we’re going to match you to things you could do.

can’t keep giving out news where people can’t make an impact..

that’s an audience that we’re just losing as consumers of our publications, but we’re losing as participants of a civic diaologue

advocacy journalism – yes.. – all the time when we make a news value judgment


oct  2013:

ethan posst on activisim

This distaste for participation in dysfunctional political systems is easily misread as apathy, leading legislators and educators to declare “a crisis in civics” as young people participate in elections at a much lower rate than their parents. But that misses a key shift: digital natives are participating in civic life in ways where they feel they can have an impact and these points of impact are often outside government.

sound like Russell Brand‘s recent interview – esp in regard to voting….

not on ballot

No wonder it’s hard to get our heads around it. We’re moving from a vision of civics that’s party-based and partisan to one that’s personal and pointillist.


dec 2013:

ethan's lecutre at bellwether

Do the Facebook supporters of marriage equality imagine that their actions will affect Supreme Court deliberations? 

or do we question supreme court? could we not?

I want to offer a darker suggestion: given the level of disillusionment many Americans feel with the political process, perhaps we shouldn’t expect young people to get involved with traditional politics.

On the left, excitement about a presumably progressive African-American president has given way to deep frustration with rising inequality, an unregulated banking system, ongoing military engagements and a culture of pervasive surveillance that’s starting to look like a national post-traumatic stress reaction to the 9/11 attacks. On the right, a prolonged economic depression combined with shifting demographics suggests a government so out of touch with the concerns of “ordinary” Americans that we would be better off without it.

Here’s an ugly, but plausible, explanation for the shifting engagement in civics: It’s not that people aren’t interested in civics. They’re simply not interested in feeling ineffectual or helpless. 

I’ve taken to calling this new model of citizenship “participatory civics”. One of the characteristics of this version of civics is an interest – perhaps a need – for participants to see their impact on the issues they’re trying to influence. 

I’m not trying to argue for the superiority or inferiority of participatory civics. Instead, I’m trying to acknowledge that this type of civics is on the rise and to see whether we can have a debate about this changing space that doesn’t recapitulate the decade-long “bloggers versus journalists” debate.

We’re used to seeing activism and civics unfold in the sphere of law. One of the fascinating aspects of participatory civics is that it’s unfolding in other spheres as well. 

Zeynep Tufekçi has been trying to figure out why it’s so hard for these popular movements to sustain themselves and turn into effective political movements, observing that the Tahrir youth were pushed aside in the Egyptian polls by the Muslim Brotherhood (and later the army) and that the occupiers of Gezi Park have decamped and formed neighborhood fora that seem unlikely to pressure Erdogan or achieve their political goals. 

Tufekçi offers an analogy to explain what she thinks is going on. In the past decades, it’s become much easier to summit Mt. Everest – packaged trips promise to help non-elite climbers summit Everest supported by sherpas, oxygen, etc. While more people are summiting Everest, more are also dying – if something goes wrong, non-elite climbers are less able to rescue themselves and others on the mountain. In this analogy, social media is a sherpa, an oxygen tank for protest. In the past, bringing 50,000 people out for a protest required months or years of planning and negotiation between different interest groups. When those groups took to the streets, they represented the hard work necessary to build coalitions, and their presence was a signal to authorities that they faced well-organized, deep resistance. Gezi Park, Tukekçi argues, brought together a coalition that had no common issues other than frustration with Erdogan – nationalists, Kurds, Allawi, gay and lesbian Turks – and, because it brought them together so quickly and with little compromise, the coalition was unstable.

The problem of bringing protesters together into deliberation is a special case of a general problem: if civics is driven by passionate participation, how do we create a deliberative public space?

If I’m passionate about UN intervention in the Central African Republic and you’re concerned with legalizing raw milk sales in your town, we can both share our views and rally our forces, but it could be very challenging to get me to listen to you, or vice versa.

The HPA’s campaign, We Are the Districts, links the film to income inequality in America and in the world and invites fans to take arms against inequality in the ways Katniss Everdeen takes arms against a corrupt government. 


ethan on news cycle


and Sahar

sometimes the only thing we know how to do (ie: bring awareness) is the wrong thing to do..

what’s behind the story that makes us pay attention.. we wired to pay attention to stories – are we also wired to pay attention to things we can do something about.. yet – there aren’t always solutions..  

news worthiness

personal narrative


new category on global voices – good news

mr rogers quote – when you see something bad happen – look toward the helpers..  – can we make this more conscious in our reporting..



on Aaron


interview with Henry Jenkins on cosmopolitanism:

interview henry and ethan

Appiah, a Ghanaian-American philosopher, suggests that cosmopolitans recognize that there is more than one acceptable way to live in the world, and that we may have obligations to people who live in very different ways than we do.
Cosmopolitanism doesn’t demand that we accept all ways of living in the world as equally admirable – he works hard to draw a line between cosmopolitanism and moral relativism – but does demand that we steer away from a fundamentalist or nationalist response that sees our way as the only way and those who believe something different as inferior or unworthy of our consideration or aid.
A cosmopolitan approach offers us the encouragement to discover other ways of solving a problem while accepting the idea that we may choose to continue living in ways we have in the past. What we are not free to do is to dismiss other ways of living out of hand, or to fall back on a narrow, tribal definition of obligation. 
incomplete globalization…
I am deeply influenced by Lant Prichett’s arguments which make the case that increased migration would be the single biggest step taken towards economic development in poor nations. 
So “incomplete globalization” is both broken in some ways, and incomplete, though my focus is one the ways it is incomplete and imbalanced between globalization of atoms, people and bits. 
xenophiles & bridge figures..
I probably emphasize the function of the bridge figure more thoroughly in Rewire because it’s hard for me to imagine much global connection without bridging. But xenophiles – particularly xenophiles who wear their interests and passions on their sleeves, like Anthony Bourdain and his relentless search for interesting global food – are enormously important in promoting the possibility and importance of international connection. Not everyone can be a bridge figure, I argue – it’s an accident of circumstances as well as a choice of perspective and temperment – but xenophilia is a choice and one I hope more people will make. 
cognitive diversity..
This likely requires changing how we recruit talent, looking at broader pools of individuals with different paths towards qualification. 
like infinitely many different paths…
networked individualism via c dot app via the brain ness..
nov/dec 2013:
at the oxford internet institute lecture series
ethan at oxford internet
sign by protester – that is thanking facebook
slacktivism or ? – when liking facebook becomes our activism..? – [rushkoff – generation like]
these critiques often start from assumption of people are bad civic actors.. what if instead .. we start from the assumption that people are having a hard time figuring out how to be good civic actors…
putnam’s bowling alone feeding our thinking on slacktivism
do we just have the metrics wrong? ie: did you join a party, did you vote, ..
this is a really depressing time to work on civics…
may be moving into a space of monitorial (or whatever) – mostly the fact that models do change… ie: rather than being really bad at old civics.. we might be beginning to get really good at new civics..

new civics…

(not here to advocate for it.. just sharing what i’m seeing)
puts heavy weight on participation – to inscribe themselves on public and social processes – by media
ie: you don’t give to oxfam – you give to kiva.. donors choose.. kickstarter..
where for me it gets really worrisome – civic crowdfunding.. goes after projects that you really think government should be doing…
civics based on passion – can be double edged.. we could create crimes of passion
– – – –
  • thin(equality profile pic) to thick (occupy).. whether you use your head or use your feet
[thin isn’t inherently bad, some need to be thin, because some things you need everyone to be able to do]
  • instrumental (clearly defined theory of change – human rights) to voice (doesn’t necessarily have a clear theory of change – use where hard to exit).. 
dream – undocumented not by choice
self-deportation and assylum
mailpile – response to snowden
4 spheres – norms, markets, codes, laws
voice begets voice
may turn out to build movements
– – – – – –
really big problem – shirky – here comes everybody.. crazy easy to get groups together.. problem with mass movements.. don’t seem to get us there..
Zeynep – her everest analogy – now people up there w/no business being there.. perhaps bringing more and more movement and less and less change
– – – — –
how to have a conversation in the public sphere when we all come together with different passions/visions
can we have a debate.. can we have a public..
(lippman- public opinion) – no
(dewey– the public) – yes
how we do this in a world where everybody has power to build own movement/media.. best i’ve seen on this – interlocking public:
not sure i buy it – the pointillist public sphere.. if have wide enough view –  you see big picture – if you’re standing close – hard to get beyond single dot..
the only way this talk connects to rewire is that argument..
deeply worried about civics that lets each of us martial our own civics… then what..
at the end of the day – i don’t do a ton of research.. i do a lot of advisement
ie: andrew slack – hp alliance.. now doing hunger games – he knows full well this is as thin as it gets.. but i have 10’s of thousands of youth.. that want to do something.. how do we help them learn how to do civics..
adding thick to thin (mockingjay et al)
perhaps a better way to climb everest.. no prep/no training – way less danger..
do we create the depression by the taboo not to talk about it. by our constructs of earning a living et al..
aug 2014:
sept 2014 – bif10:
ethan on pop up
feb 2015 – hosting #netgain:
sermon by Ethan’s wife, Rachel, sept 2014:

there’s more that connects us than divides us. Imagine if we all woke up in the morning with the intention of strengthening what connects us, instead of digging in behind what divides us.


jan 2015 – honor every death

july 2015 – who benefits from doubt

It’s not necessary to persuade people that cigarettes are safe to smoke or that we can burn coal indefinitely without raising global temperatures – it’s enough to raise sufficient doubt to lead to paralysis.


Internet users who doubt whatever they see online are less likely to use social media to organize and topple those who are currently in power.

ie: noise to paralyze

It’s expensive to persuade someone to believe something that isn’t true. Persuading someone that _nothing_ is true, that every “fact” represents a hidden agenda, is a far more efficient way to paralyze citizens and keep them from acting. It’s a dark art, one with a long past in Russia and in the US, and one we’re now living with online.


Understanding mass shootings and gun violence as a public health issue: “Mass shootings and second-hand smoke”:

Original Tweet:

oct 2015
10/14/15 6:23 AM
Jonathan @zittrain on the Freedom to Innovate (#f2i)…
fitting while talking to self about on iodance and ps in the open ness
I asked Jonathan Zittrain to give an opening keynote on the Freedom to Innovate because he’s one of the world’s leading thinkers about technical, legal and normative barriers to innovation. His book, “The Future of the Internet – And How to Stop It”, introduces the idea of generativity, the capacity of a system to enable users to invent and create new technologies.

As we head towards the Internet of Things, we’re going to fight over models for how objects talk to the internet. Will the internet of the Internet of Things be the real internet, where anything can talk to anything, and it’s up to the thing to figure out if it wants to listen. Or should it be a closed, corporate net where objects only talk to their vendors. We’ll end up resolving this against a backdrop of legal liability, a world in which things sometimes go feral. Who’s responsible when your Phillips tuneable bulb is reprogrammed to burn down your house? Amazon recently announced their platform for the internet of things, a framework that fills a genuine need, the ability to constrain what can talk to what. But Amazon is going to charge for this privilege, raising questions about whether we want to hand this responsibility to commercial entities.


When we think about the generative, blinking cursor, Zittrain tells us, MIT and other academic institutions created this environment and this paradigm. And universities have a huge role to play in defending and promoting freedom to tinker and freedom to innovate. “I feat that this mission has been forgotten, and that people like Peter Thiel, who are encouraging people to innovate outside the university, are helping this be forgotten.” We don’t want these institutions to be oracular, to predict the future of the devices we can use and how we interact with them. But we do want them to be “productively non-neutral.

weird on thiel ness.. outside ness..?

oct 2015
on future that is disruptive and just

Disrupters always like to see themselves as revolutionaries. But they can very quickly become the entrenched power.

In the late 1990s, no one in West Africa was sad to see state-owned monopoly phone companies disrupted by mobile phone providers. But now, more than 15 years later, those companies are some of the most powerful economic actors in many developing nations, and there’s lots of debate about whether their pricing and service is fair, or whether they might not need some disruption.


Let’s by all means look for ways to disrupt existing broken systems, but let’s not forget to ask who benefits and who is hurt by these disruptions. And while making change through innovation and technology is an exciting prospect, innovating by changing how people and technology interact is even more powerful.

the rewiring.. ness?
networked individuaism graphic


city science (mit) – like personal fabricating your city.. no?


living spaces


city ness


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 136 other followers