According to Manuel Castells the last reports show that the 97% of the world’s information is already digitalized, 80% of this information is also available online on the Internet. In this context Castells observe two different users behavior: those who live in the information ocean, and those who actually dives into it. Information divers are active creators of information and communication with an intellectual project. Active creators have shown a great capacity for innovation by inventing new forms of participatory design processes, and they have also understood that interaction is a key element in the overall communication strategy.
The fact that 80% of the world’s information is available online, however, doesn’t indicate access to diversity, just the existence of an exponentially growing amount of online data. Recent contributions from Ethan Zuckerman, researcher on the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard University, pointed out that the global connectivity feeling that we perceive from new media is unreal. The poverty of attention centres that we though have overcome in the age after Google is actually being reproduced by the new media in connected environments.
Observing user’s attention distribution on media on the Internet, Zuckerman has detected a phenomenon, which he name ‘Imaginary Cosmopolitanism’. Internet and the social media communication is not giving the diversity encountering that we may feel in our online communities. One of the explanations for this phenomenon of ‘Imaginary Cosmopolitanism’, as described by Zuckerman, is the human tendency to the familiar and quotidian. During the presentation of his book ‘Digital Cosmopolitans: Why we think Internet connects us, why it doesn’t and how to rewire it’ (2014), that Zuckerman offered at Harvard Law School, he stated: “We tend to seek for people like us. With the same race, socio-economic, and belief system background. This tendency to flock it’s been helpful until now. This tendency to flock is keeping us away from information we need to have” (Ethan Zuckerman on REWIRE, 2013). During the presentation Zuckerman observed that the tools for digital exploration that are being developed nowadays aren’t taking this issue seriously, and that we need to encounter diversity to actually be able to find the information we need.
In order to address the issue of the what Zuckerman calls ‘echo chambers’ – a place where only specific kind of voices, not necessarily plurals, are represented–, and working in collaboration with a research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is developing tools for cognitive tracking with the aim to give users the chance to track their own digital behavior. With an experimental demonstration of this effect Zuckerman seeks to prove that it is possible to use behavior tracking to contribute to the own user’s awareness, instead of the surveillance aims that are usually related to this particular tools.
Zuckerman experiments on behavior tracking seeks to allow users to be able to encounter information they might need, even if they don’t know they need it. During the book presentation in Harvard Law School (2013), Zuckerman also described the first experimental realization the app ‘FollowBias’, an interesting tool for behavior tracking and diversity encountering. The project is still in private beta, but it starts on the premise that our personal choices on the social networks filter and bias the information we consume, and that when we share content we pass our FollowBias to our own networks. What FollowBias does is to calculate the gender diversity of tweeter following choices to encourage the encounter of gender diversity, with the aim to provide a tool to help individuals to be aware of their own behavior.
For knowledge to take place, reflection is required to create awareness, meaning, and understanding. After self-awareness there’s a strong possibility for change, because diversity encountering leads us towards knowledge, and knowledge is the most critical resource for social and economic development.